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The Jewish Community of Lithuania

Lithuania

Lietuva / Lietuvos Respublika - Republic of Lithuania

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 2,500 out of 2,800,000 (0.08%). Main Jewish organization:

The Jewish Community of Lithuania
Phone: +370 52 613 003
Fax: +370 52 127 195
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.lzb.lt/en/

HISTORY

The Jews of Lithuania

Even before the unification of Poland and Lithuania (in 1569) the condition of the Jews of Lithuania, who had settled in the first half of the 14th century, was more or less identical to that of their brethren in Poland, moving pendulum-like from receiving charters of rights from the local princes to expulsions and local anti-Semitic outbursts – a result of Christian religious incitement and jealousy at their financial success (although most Jews were poor, living hand to mouth).
The prolific cooperation between the Jewish communities, their near-universal literacy rates and their financial skills gave them a relative edge over the locals and led many nobles to invite them to manage their estates. Thus it was that alongside the traditional “Jewish” occupations such as being a tailor, butcher, a religious scribe and others, a new “Jewish” occupation developed: leasing the lands and managing the estates of the nobles.
Upon the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795) and the rise in the power of the noble class in Lithuania, the position of the Jews leasing the nobles' land improved, expanding their business to saloons and taverns as well, especially in the countryside. In those years, the body that negotiated with the authorities on behalf of the Jews was the Council of Four Lands (Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Lithuania and Russia-Volhynia) which gathered hundreds of Jewish communities under its jurisdiction and mediated between them and the powers that be.
The Jews lived with themselves, amongst themselves. They spoke their own unique language – Yiddish – established educational institutions and internal tribunals and managed the community's affairs in all aspects of life, down to the last detail. Proof of the solidarity between Jews can be found in the response of the Jews of Lithuania to the Khmelnitsky pogroms (1648) which devastated their brethren in Poland. Immediately following the massacres the “Lithuania State Council” collected large amounts of money from its member communities to ransom Jews held captive by the Tartars, and announced a period of mourning throughout the country. As a symbol of solidarity, the Jews of Lithuania were forbidden to wear opulent clothing or jewelry for three years.

The annexation of Lithuania to Russia marked the beginning of the attempts to integrate the Jews into the Czarist Empire. The Russians couldn't abide the state of affairs in which the Jews were secluded amongst themselves from the rest of the Russian subjects, and imposed obligatory general education upon them (“Laws Concerning the Jews”, 1804) as well as conscription to the Czar's army (“The Cantonists' Edict”, 1825). The Jews also suffered economic hardship, upon the decline in the power of the nobles and the commensurate reduction in income from leasing.
The ideas of the Enlightenment that seeped into the Jewish sphere, which until then ended at the edge of the shtetl, caused a cultural earthquake. Young boys read foreign literature in secret, girls began to study at the traditional “cheder” and the traditional beard was replaced by clean-shaven faces and fashionable pince-nez spectacles. These changes led to a crisis in the institution of the family. Sons left the home in search of an education and the divorce rate grew. A common witticism of the time among the Jews of Poland and Lithuania held that if you visit a house with two grown daughters living in it, you don't ask if one of them has divorced, but when the second one did. Furthermore, in the second half of the 19th century a mass migration of Jews took place from the small towns of the countryside into the large cities of Vilnius, Kaunas and Siauliai. Jewish society became a “traveling society” and old occupations such as cobbling and carpentry were pushed aside in favor of free professions such as banking and clerking.
The Jews of Lithuania also have a special connection to the Land of Israel which dates to 1809, when a large number of the disciples of The Gaon of Vilna, (aka the Gr”a), made aliyah and settled in Safed and in Jerusalem. These immigrants founded the “Bikur Cholim” hospital in Jerusalem and also took part in the establishment of the colonies of Gey Onni (now known as Rosh Pina), Petah Tikva and Motza.

1850 | Jerusalem of Lithuania

In the mid-19th century a large Jewish community began to form in the city of Vilnius. By 1850, for example, there were 40,000 Jews living in the city. Vilnius, known to Jews as Vilna, received the honorary title of “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for its status as a leading Jewish spiritual center. It was in this city that the prototypical figure of the “Litvak scholar” took shape, with its founding role model being Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shlomo Zalman (aka The Gaon of Vilna, or the Gr”a, 1720-1797).
The Gaon of Vilna was considered a prodigy from a very early age, and it was said of him that “all the words of the Torah were laid out in his memory as though in a box”, and legend has it that he began delivering sermons at the synagogue at the age of ten. The Gaon of Vilna was perhaps most famous for the relentless campaign he waged against the Hasidic movement. He himself lived frugally, if not ascetically, in a small house. He never held an official public position and subsisted on a meager stipend from the Jewish community. Not content with encyclopedic knowledge of scripture and exegesis, the Gaon of Vilna was also well-versed in mathematics, astronomy, Hebrew grammar and more.
Many scholars believe that one of the reasons that the Haskala movement (the Jewish version of the Enlightenment) flourished among Lithuanian Jews was the fact that many of the Jewish intellectuals began their studies at various yeshivas, where their intellectual skills were honed and refined due to the ethos of the “studious one”, crafted in the image of the Gaon of Vilna.
The printing press also played a significant part in spreading the Haskala throughout the Jewish world of Lithuania. In 1796 a Hebrew printing press was founded in Vilnius, and in 1799 Rabbi Baruch Romm moved his own printing press from a small town near Grodno to Vilnius. This press was where the Babylonian Talmud was later printed. In 1892 the Strashun library was opened, and soon became one of the largest Jewish libraries in Europe.
In the second half of the 19th century Hebrew literature began to flourish in Vilnius. “Jerusalem of Lithuania” was the crucible that gave birth to some of the founding fathers of Hebrew prose and poetry, including Abraham Dob Lebensohn (aka Ada”m HaCohen), Micah Yosef (aka Miche”l), Rabbi Mordechai Aharon Ginzburg and Judah Leib Gordon (aka Yele”g) who combined the old world and the new in their works and opened windows onto knowledge and enlightenment for their readers.

1880 | Exile Yourself to a Place of Torah

The image of the Lithuanian scholar was a reflection of the general Jewish-Lithuanian profile, who was “by nature a man of the mind, of reason, modest and humble, who worships God out of an understanding that this is the way. He does not believe that the Rabbi can perform wonders outside of nature” (from “In the Paths of Jewish Lithuania” by Akiva Sela, 2007, p. 11)
The founder of the world of Lithuanian yeshivas was Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, a pupil of the Gaon of Vilna. Rabbi Chaim gathered all the small yeshivas that were scattered throughout the length and breadth of Lithuania and united them under one roof in the city of Volozhin. The Volozhin Yeshiva operated until 1892, and on a smaller scale until 1939, becoming a success story. Rabbi Chaim branded it from the start as an elitist institution, leading thousands of young men from all over Eastern Europe to compete for enrollment, thus upholding the Mishnaic injunction to “Exile yourself to a place of Torah”.
Rabbi Chaim adopted the pedagogic approach of the Gaon of Vilna, who disapproved of “pilpul” (hair-splitting) for its own sake, and instead instituted a systematic study of the Talmud. This was at odds with the method of the great yeshivas of Poland, which practiced the “hair-splitting” dialogue approach to study.
In 1850 a new religious school of thought began to appear in Lithuania, the Musar ("moralist”) school, which many scholars see as a reaction to the rationalist, cerebral atmosphere of Volozhin. The founder of this school was Rabbi Israel Salanter, who came from a town in northwestern Lithuania. According to the Musar movement, which was somewhat similar to Catholic Christian precepts, man is born a sinner and must constantly examine and correct himself through study. The space in which this correction took place was the yeshiva, which dedicated several hours a day to the reading of morals books, chief among which was “Mesilat Yesharim” by the Ramcha”l (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto).
In 1881 the Slobodka Yeshiva was founded in a suburb of Kaunas, becoming the first and most typical yeshiva of the morals school. Later on additional moralist yeshivas were founded in Lithuania, among them those in the towns of Novardok (Nowogrodek) and Kelme.

1903 | Bund-ing

Following the pogroms against the Jews of the southwestern Russian Empire in the years 1881-1882 (the “Storms in the South” massacres) tens of thousands of Jews fled Lithuania to the west, mostly to the United States, to South Africa and to Palestine, where they kick-started the First Aliyah. In those days there were many fervent adherents of Zionism among the Jews of Lithuania. Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl foresaw that the Zionist movement would spread far wider among the Jews of Eastern Europe than among their brethren to the west, many of whom had lost much connection to their identity. And indeed, when Herzl visited Lithuania in 1903, he was received like royalty by the masses.
Later on in the early 20th century, the youth movements of Hashomer Hatzair, HeHalutz, Beitar and the Mizrachi Youth played a part in fueling the growing sympathy among the Jews of Lithuania towards the Zionist endeavor. The Hebrew language also flourished during this time, due to the operation of school networks such as Tarbut, the Hebrew Realgymnasium, theaters, and Hebrew newspapers, the most popular of which was “HaCarmel”, published in Vilnius.
But Lithuania was not just a hotbed for eager Zionists, but also the home of the Zionist movement's nemesis, the Bund movement, which stood for socialist universalism and the Yiddish language. The Bund, established in an attic in Vilnius in 1897 (the same year as the First Zionist Congress) is almost forgotten from the collective Jewish memory; but in those days of the early 20th century, when socialism was winning hearts throughout Europe and among Jews in particular, the movement was highly popular. One sign of its power was its May Day demonstration in 1900, attended by no less than 50,000 people.

1914 | Expulsion and Assimilation

Shortly after WW1 broke out a libel spread in Lithuania claiming that a handful of Jews from a small village near the city of Siauliai were aiding the German enemy by signaling information regarding the Czar's army. The libel gave the Russian authorities an excuse to deport tens of thousands of Jews from their homes. The expelled spread throughout southern Russia. Form many of them, especially the young, it was their first time outside the Lithuanian part of the Pale of Settlement. Many of them, particularly young yeshiva lads, quickly took to the boisterous, dazzling life of the cosmopolitan cities of southern Russia and drifted away from their family traditions. The Jews who remained in Lithuania were forced to live under the rule of Imperial Germany, which enforced a severe military regime and forced them to hard labor, even on Sabbaths and Jewish holidays. On the other hand, the German authorities allowed the Jews to compete for jobs in the public services, the municipalities, the post and the railroad – fields hitherto closed to them. The Germans even allowed the Jews to establish schools, libraries, clubs and theaters in Yiddish. In so doing the German occupation provided much needed oxygen to Jewish culture in Lithuania, which had been hard-hit early in the war.
At the end of the war, as the eastern front fell and peace was signed between Soviet Russia and Germany, the independent state of Lithuania rose once again. Some 100,000 Jews returned in organized groups from Russia to Lithuania and joined the 60,000 who had returned earlier or managed to avoid the expulsion.

1921 | The Golden Age

The period immediately following WW1 is considered the golden age for Jews in Lithuania. Upon the establishment of free Lithuania the Jews, who fought valiantly in the Lithuanian war of independence, helping hold Vilnius against the Polish invaders, were granted autonomy and fully equal rights, as well as representation in the first Lithuanian legislative council (the “Tariba”) - even though a large number of the significant Jewish-Lithuanian communities, including that of Vilnius, remained outside the borders of independent Lithuania.
The Jewish population of Lithuania consisted of over 80 organized communities, whose leaders were freely elected. The world of the great yeshivas – Panevezys, Slobodka, Telsiai – returned to its glory days. The press and literature flourished, and Yiddish and Hebrew reigned supreme.
Like everywhere else in the Jewish world, Lithuania too boasted vibrant national activity. Youth movements and training camps of all sorts raised a generation of pioneering Jewish youth. Alongside them worked the national parties, including the socialist Bund, the national-religious Mizrachi movement, whose representatives were active in the highest levels of Zionist politics, the Revisionists and Hashomer Hatzair. Hundreds of kindergartens operated in Lithuania alongside the Tarbut Hebrew school network and the Hebrew Gymnasium organization, which operated 13 schools throughout the country.
However, the rise in anti-Semitism throughout Europe, and that of fascist movements, made its mark on Lithuania as well. In 1926 Lithuania's nationalists staged a fascist coup. The democratic parties were dissolved and most went underground. Two years later, in 1928, the last remnants of Jewish autonomy were abolished and the government handed the local cooperatives many of the trade and industry fields, such as the export of grain and flax, which had hitherto been the main sources of livelihood for many Jews. Throughout the 1930's anti-Semitic expressions and violent outbursts became more and more common.

1941 | In the Name of the Father

In August 1939, following the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Lithuania lost its independence. The pie of Eastern Europe was cut into thin slices, and Lithuania, with all its various populations, was swallowed by the Soviet behemoth.
Although Jews were among the hard core of the Communist Party, they received no significant positions in the new administration in Lithuania. Despite this, they were identified by the local Lithuanians with the Soviet occupation, which further increased their hostility. Concurrently, the Zionist movement was outlawed, and all the Hebrew-language schools were forced to teach in Yiddish.
In 1941, as the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty was violated by Germany and Lithuania conquered by the Nazis, the Einsatzgruppen units were tasked with the extermination of the Jews. Starting on July 3rd, 1941, these units executed a methodical plan of annihilation, which was carried out on a precise schedule. Many of the stages of extermination – locating the victims, guarding them, leading them to the killing plots and sometimes the killing itself – was done by Lithuanian auxiliaries, including military and police personnel. The mass slaughter was mostly conducted in the forests surrounding the cities and towns, on the edge of large pits dug by conscripted farmers, Soviet prisoners of war and sometimes the Jews themselves. Later on, the Jews remaining in small towns were transferred to ghettos created in nearby large cities.
A glorious chapter in the annals of the Jews of Lithuania during the Holocaust is reserved for the partisan resistance movement. The banner of rebellion was raised by partisan Abba Kovner, whose name literally means “father” and who coined the phrase “let us not go like lambs to the slaughter!” and who, along with his friends Josef Glazman and Yitzchak Wittenberg, established the Unified Partisan Organization (FPO), which operated in the woods.
The organization succeeded in obtaining ammunition, published an underground newspaper and carried out many acts of sabotage, but its main achievement was to instill a spirit of pride and self-respect among the Jews of Lithuania.
By the end of WW2 some 206,800 people – 94% of Lithuania's Jews – were annihilated.

2000 | A Homeland No Longer

After the end of WW2 Lithuania once again became a Soviet republic. Most of the Jewish community were not allowed to immigrate to Israel, and in accordance with the Communist ideology were also banned from any national or religious activity. Despite this, under international pressure, the authorities permitted the establishment of a Yiddish theater.
A census from 1959 shows that 24,672 Jews lived in Lithuania at the time, most of them in Vilnius and some in Kaunas. In the early 1970's a massive migration of Jews began from Lithuania to Israel, increasing further after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989.
In the year 2000 the Jewish community of Lithuania numbered only about 3.600 Jews, about 0.1% of the population.
In 1995 the President of the newly independent Lithuania, Algirdas Brazauskas, visited Israel and asked the Jewish people for forgiveness from the Knesset dais. The level of anti-Semitism in Lithuania in the past two decades (as of 2016) is considered one of the lowest in Europe.

Place Type:
Country
ID Number:
213796
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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During the anti-Jewish violence in 1655, Shabbtai fled from Vilna to Lublin. Three month later the rioters reached Lublin and Shabbtai escaped to Bohemia. He stayed first in Prague, and then for a time in Dresnitz, Moravia, after which he was appointed rabbi of Holesov, where he died. In an important historical work Meggilat Eifah Shabbtai described the Ukrainian rebellions against the Poles which to a large measure were directed against the Jews. The year 1635 saw the first big explosion of violence in Ukraine but this attempt at the revolution was crushed. It returned with new vigor thirteen years later. This second rebellion, in 1648-9, succeeded in freeing a large part of the Ukraine from Polish rule. In the course of the violence Ukrainian leader, Bogdan Chmielnicki, one of the greatest anti-Semites in history, organized the murder of an estimated 100,000 Jews in the most horrendous ways.

Shabbtai also composed Selichot (Amsterdam, 1651). His other works are: He-Arukh (Berlin, 1767), a commentary on the Arba'ah Turim (a forerunner of the Shulchan Aruch written by Jacob ben Asher), Tokfo Kohen (Frankfort/Oder, 1677), on the laws of possession; Gevurat Anashim (Dessau, 1697), on chapter 154 of the Shulchan Aruch; and Po'el Zedek (Jesenice, 1720), on the 613 commandments as enumerated by Maimonides.
Weiter, A. pseudonym of Eisik Meir Devenishsky (1877-1919), political agitator, and Yiddish writer. Born in Biniakon, a village near Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He received a traditional education but joined the revolutionary movement, becoming active in the Jewish Labor Bund. He edited the movement's organ Der Werker. In 1899 and again in 1902-4 Weiter was imprisoned for his activities. He returned to Vilna and participated in the 1905 Russian Revolution. After the failure of the revolution he devoted himself to writing and campaigned for national rights for the Jews. In 1912 he was exiled to Siberia, where he remained until the outbreak of the 1917 Revolution. He then lived in Petrograd and Nizhni Novgorod and at the end of 1918 returned to Vilna where he was shot by the Polish Legionnaires who occupied the city in 1919

Weiter wrote plays, short stories, and essays. His early writings were of a political nature, but from 1906 his plays were free of any political motifs. In his blank-verse play, Fartog (1907), he portrayed the mood of Jewish intellectuals on the eve of the 1905 Russian Revolution. In Fayer (1910), he expressed the alienation and loneliness of the younger generation and their longing for a full and creative Jewish life. In his Der Shtumer (1912), he described the suffering of his generation, whose expectations for a new freedom were not fulfilled. In 1908, together with S. Gorelik and Samuel Niger, Weiter edited the Literarishe Monatshriften, a monthly which became a rallying point for young writers who believed in a renaissance of Jewish life and a revitalized Jewish culture. Among the works that Weiter translated were Gorki's My Childhood and Max Halbe's In Stream (together with Z. Reizen). As a journalist he contributed to Falks Zeitung, to Friend and to Morgenstern.

In 1920, the Weiter Buch was published in his memory in Vilna.
Yehoash, pseudonym of Yehoash Solomon Bloomgarden (1872-1927), Yiddish poet and Bible translator. Yehoash was "generally recognized by those familiar with this literature [Yiddish], as its greatest living poet and one of its most skillful raconteurs", according to a New York Times book review in 1923. Born in Vierzbolavo, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), he received a traditional yeshiva education but he came under the influence of the Haskala.
In 1890 he emigrated to the USA but made little headway with his writing until the early 1900s. His output included verse, translations, poetry, short stories, essays and fables in Yiddish and some articles in English. He started to translate the Bible into modern Yiddish – a work which was hailed as a contribution of national significance and perhaps the greatest masterpiece in the Yiddish language. His two volume edition of the Pentateuch became a standard work for Yiddish speaking homes. In 1911, together with Charles Spivak he prepared a Yiddish dictionary which defined about 4,000 Hebrew and Aramaic words used in Yiddish and which went through many editions as a basic reference book. His renderings in Yiddish of the books of Isaiah and Job were published in 1910

In January 1914, he left for Eretz Israel and lived for a short time in Rehovot. He mastered classical Arabic and translated portions of the Koran and Arabian tales into Yiddish. On his return to New York he wrote a three-volume work describing the trip and the country Fun New York biz Rekhovot und Tsurik ("From New York to Rehovot and Back," 1917-18). His description was later translated into English as The Feet of the Messenger.

Yehoash's own poetry was considered to be far ahead of his time. When the first edition of his Gezamelte Lider ("Collected Poems") appeared in 1907, he was widely hailed as a first-rank artist. His lyrics were reprinted in anthologies and school texts, and were translated into Russian, Dutch, Polish, Finnish, German, Spanish, English and Hebrew. An English translation, Poems of Yehoash, by Isidor Goldstick appeared in 1952 and a Hebrew version in1957. Two later volumes of lyrics (1919) and (1921) linked him with Inzikhism, the modernist trend of introspection in post-World War I Yiddish poetry. He retold in verse biblical and post-biblical legends, tales from medieval Jewish chronicles, Hasidic lore and even stories from the Talmud. Yehoash translated a number of world renowned books into Yiddish, including Longfellow's Hiawatha and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. At the time of his death, he was editor of The Day newspaper.
Rabinowitz Louis Mayer (1887-1957), manufacturer, philanthropist. Born in Rosanne, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), he emigrated to the USA in 1901. In 1916 Rabinowitz established a corset manufacturing company in New York, and subsequently became chairman of the US corset industry association (1934). In 1935 he became director of the Businessmen’s Council.

Rabinowitz was deeply involved in Jewish communal causes. He was vice-president of the Hebrew National Orphan Home (1921), the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn, the American Jewish Historical Society, the New York chapter of the American-Israel Society, and director of the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City (1935).

Rabinowitz was also a collector of books, manuscripts, and paintings. The collection was bequeathed to the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yale University. At Yale he created the Rabinowitz Fund for Judaica Research and established a chair in Semitic languages and literature (1935). He served as director of the Yale University Association of Fine Arts and as honorary trustee of the Yale Library Associates. In 1942 he donated a collection of over 300 reproductions of classical and modern art to the National Jewish Hospital of Denver. He endowed a surgical fellowship at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn and donated several murals to the building. A director of the Jewish Theological Seminary, he established the Louis M. Rabinowitz Institute for Research in Rabbinics at the seminary in 1951, and donated many rare books to its library. In 1953, in conjunction with the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati the Louis M. Rabinowitz Foundation sponsored a five-year archeological project in Israel.
Manne, Mordechai Zvi (1859-1886), Hebrew lyric poet and painter. Born in Radushkowitz, near Vilna, Lithuania. He received a traditional education from his father, a poor Melamed [teacher] and gravestone engraver. At the age of 13 he was sent to study at a yeshiva in Minsk (then part of the Russian Empire, now the capital of Belarus). He taught himself Russian and general studies. In 1876, Manne started to study painting at the art school of Vilna. In 1881, he was accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts at St. Petersburg, Russia. Manne was influenced by Russian and German classical poetry, which he used to translate.

His work is characterized by a profound sadness, and the love of nature, which he expressed equally beautifully with pen or brush. In his last days the love of Zion assumed a important place in his poetical writings. Manne was the first to introduce European metre into Hebrew poetry.

Manne contributed poems and articles to Ha-Meliz and Ha-Zefira under the pen name Ha-Metzayyer ("the painter"). In 1884 he designed the covers of Nahum Sokolow's "Ha-Asif" and S.P. Rabinowitz' "Kneset Yisrael". "Kol Kitvey Manne" a collection of Manne's poems, essays and letters was published posthumously in 1897. Some of his best poems are: "Massat Nafshi" ("The Burden of my Soul"), "Hashoshanah" ("The Lily"), "Halaylah" ("The Night"), "Atzev Anochi" ("I am grieved"), "Zikkaron Leyom Daled Shel Hol Hamoed Pesah" ("In Memory of the Fourth Intermediate Day of Passover"), and "Tikvah Laobed" ("Hope for the Worker"). His essays are about art of painting, painters, the art of poetry, and esthetics. Some of his poems were set to music.

His promising career was interrupted by his death from tuberculosis in 1886 when he was only 27 years of age.
Finkel, Eliezer Judah (1879-1965), Rosh Yeshiva (Head of yeshiva), son of Rabbi Nathan Zvi Frankel, the "Alter of Slovodka". Frankel received his early education from his father but he went on to study at the Lithuanian yeshivot of Slovodka, Radin and Mir. In 1903 he married the daughter of Rav Eliyahu Baruch Kamai, head of the Mir yeshiva (near Minsk, now in Belarus), and four years later succeeded him as Rosh Yeshiva. If during the tenure of Rabbi Kamai the yeshiva wavered between those in favour and those against, under the influence of Rabbi Finkel the Mir Yeshiva definitively joined the Mussar movement. He was a charismatic teacher and good administrator. He was extremely close to his students and spent much of his time teaching and advising them. Under his leadership the Mir Yeshiva became one of the largest and most influential of all yeshivot.
The Yeshiva burnt down in 1911 but it was quickly rebuilt and extended. The destruction and resulting hardships of World War I caused Rabbi Finkel to move the yeshiva to Poltava in the Ukraine. It did not return to Mir until 1921, by which time the town became part of Poland while Minsk was in the new USSR. After the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland, the town found itself in Soviet territory so in 1940 the Yeshiva with about 300 students and rabbis moved again, this time to Kaiden in still independent Lithuania. With the advance of the Nazis the students and rabbis had to make further attempts to escape. Some fled to Japan and Shanghai, while others made it to the USA. Rabbi Finkel himself reached Jerusalem, where the yeshiva was reconstituted in 1944.
He became "Zaken Rashei Yeshivot" (doyen of the heads of yeshivot) and was supported by the most important rabbis of his generation Hafez Hayyim and Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski.
Katzenellenbogen, Zvi Hirsch (Naphtali) (1796-1868), author and teacher. Lived in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), where he became one of the early Maskilim. He became director of Hebrew studies in the governmental rabbinical school, despite the objection of some traditional orthodox circles. The school was founded in 1847 and he served there for 18 years until his retirement.He was followed by his son Haim. Katzenellenbogen was well liked amongst all sectors and age groups in the community. He wrote articles for two periodicals. At the age of 26 he wrote "Netivot Olam", a commentary on part of the Shulchan Aruch. At the same age he wrote poetry and a number of eulogies including one on Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin entitled "Nahal Dimah".
Gordon, David (1831-1886), journalist and editor, born in Podmerecz, a village near Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). Initially he studied in yeshivah, but was influenced by the Haskala movement and went on to study secular subjects. In 1849, at the age of eighteen he became teacher at Segei. For several years he taught Hebrew and German in England. In 1858 he returned to Lithuania and lived in the town of Lyck, then in East Prussia, now north east Poland, where he was asked by Eliezer Lipmann Silbermann to become assistant editor of the first Hebrew weekly newspaper, Ha-Maggid. In 1880 he became the official editor of the weekly, although unofficially he had held the position for some years. He also edited a supplement to Ha-Maggid, called Maggid Mishneh, which was devoted to scientific and literary matters. In Ha-Maggid he openly called for the return of Jews to Zion, one of the first Zionist leaders to do so. Gordon was one of the foremost members of the Hibbat Zion movement, which was founded in the early 1880s. Ha-Maggid became the voice of the Hibbat Zion movement. He also edited a German language newspaper in Lyck and contributed articles to the Jewish Chronicle and London “Times”.
Abraham ben Benjamin Zeev Brisker (? - 1700). Lithuanian author and preacher. He was born in Lithuania (then in union with Poland), but was forced to leave the country after Cossack uprising led by Bogdan Chmielnicki and the resulting murder of tens of thousands of Jews (1650-55). He left for Vienna, Austria, where he studied under R. Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz. The religious fanaticism of the Emperor Leopold I led to the expulsion of the Jews from Vienna in 1669-1670, so he was once again forced to flee. Avraham ben Benjamin returned to Brest Litovsk, Lithuania. He continued his studies under R.Mordecai Guenzburg and R.Zevi Hirsch.

The traumatic times through which he lived naturally influenced him greatly. He had intentions of immigrating to the Land of Israel, but his plans did not materialize. He was one of the representatives of Brest Litovsk at the meeting of the Council of the Lands in Lublin (1683). He wrote several books. "Zera Avraham" deals with the weekly portion of the Torah, "Asarah Maamarot" is an assortment of articles including a renowned study of Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 6 (Pirkey Avot, 6). He wrote also "Hesed Avraham", a Kabalistic commentary on the weekly Torah portion.
Margoliot, Moses Ben Simeon (? -1781), rabbi and commentator on the Jerusalem Talmud. Born in Kedziniai, near Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania. He served as rabbi in several communities in the Samogitia region of western Lithuania. Later he was appointed rabbi to communities in Amsterdam, London and finally in Livorno, Italy.
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Rabbi Margoliot owes his renown to the commentary which he wrote on the Jerusalem Talmud, probably the first comprehensive commentary of this work and one which it is still considered the standard commentary. It is partly an explanation of the literal text and partly a comparison with the Babylonian Talmud. He set out to explain the differences between the two with regard to both text and content. The commentary to the order of Nashim was printed in Amsterdam in 1754, that of the orders Nezikin and Niddah were published in Livorno in 1770 and the remainder were published after his death. Margoliot paid careful attention to textual problems and relied on early manuscripts for clarifications. In addition he made extensive use of the Tosefta (a compilation of Oral Jewish Law written about 200CE which supplements the Mishna) in order to gain insights into the intentions of the authors. Margoliot also studied the natural sciences which certainly aided him in understanding the laws of Eretz Israel and in analyzing the order Zeraim for which there is no Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud. In his commentary, Margoliot mentions two of his other works: Be'er Mayyim Hayyim a commentary to the tractates Shabbat and Eruvin, and P'nei ha-Menorah, on the Pentateuch. These have apparently not survived.

Moses Margoliot died in Brody, Galicia (now in Ukraine).
Scheinfeld Solomon Isaac (1860-1943), rabbi, Hebraist and author. Born in Scaudvil, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), he was ordained by Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spektor in 1890. The following year Scheinfeld emigrated to the USA. At first he lived in Milwaukee, then almost a decade in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1902 he returned to Milwaukee to serve as rabbi at Beth Israel orthodox congregation until his death.

He expressed unorthodox ideas on the revision of the prayer book in his work Ha-Shilo'ah (1921). Other works by him are: Ziyunim be-Derekh ha-Hayyim ("Milestones on the Path of Life", 2 vols., 1922-28); five volumes of moral and ethical reflections on Judaism in his Ha-Adam ba-Maaleh ("The superior Man", 1931); Olam Ha-Sheker (1936), and Divrei Hakhamim (1941). Scheinfeld also wrote articles in the Hebrew encyclopedia, Ozar Yisrael.
Susskind, Alexander ben Moses of Grodno, ( ? - 1793 ). Kabbalist and author. The name was later changed to Braudes Alexander Susskind ben Moses.

He lived all his life in Grodno, Poland-Lithuania (now Hrodna, in Belarus). His life was devoted to study and prayer. Many stories are told about his good nature and the help he extended to his fellow Jews. One such story tells of the solace he offered to a fatally wounded victim of a blood libel shortly. Another one is about the money he collected illegally to support the poverty-stricken Jews of Eretz Israel.

Alexander wrote several books. The best known is "Yesod ve-Shoresh ha-Avodah" which describes aspects of Jewish life. He stressed that to be a good Jew one has to love God and love the Jewish people in equal measure. In his eyes it was not enough just to observe Jewish law or to perform a good deed, it was essential to do so with the correct intention. After a person was thoroughly conversant with the Talmud, he should. proceed to study Mussar (ethics) and then the Kabbala, he argued. One of his sayings was "Worship the Lord in Joy". He also said "when a man sits in his dwelling, the Shadow of Faith (the Shechina) spreads out His Wings over him from above. Rabbi Nahman of Braslav said of Susskind that "he was a Hassid before there were Hasssidim".
Mileikowsky, Nathan (Netanyahu), (1879-1935), Zionist preacher, born near in Kreva, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire, now in Belarus). He was educated in the Volozhin yeshivah and ordained in the rabbinate. He displayed talent as a preacher and speaker and spent two years with the preacher J.L. Yevzerow. At the turn of the century, when he was about 20 years of age, he was sent by Y. Tschlenow on a propaganda tour of Siberia. From that time Mileikowsky became an ardent speaker on behalf of Zionism.

In 1908 he moved to Warsaw, Poland, where he taught at the Hebrew high school of M. Krinski and took part in its management. Concurrently he continued his propaganda tours throughout Poland's cities and towns. During World War I he was a preacher in the Ohel Ya'akov synagogue in Lodz.

In 1920 Mileykowsky emigrated to Palestine. He held a position of principal in a school in Safed. From 1924 to 1929 he served as an emissary on behalf of the Jewish National Fund and the Keren Hayesod in England, Carpatho-Russia (then part of Czechoslovakia) and the United States of America.

Toward the end of his life he lived in Herzliyah and was active in the Farmers' Association. During the Arlosoroff murder trial (1933-1934), he set up a committee for the defense of the accused.

Some of his speeches are included in the anthologies Ha-Nevi'im ve-ha-Am ("The Prophets and the People," 1913) and Folk un Land (1928).

Nathan Mileikowsky is the granfather of Benjamin Nethanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.
Maimon, Salomon Ben Joshua (1753-1800), philosopher. His original name was Salomon Ben Joshua, but he changed it to Maimon in honour of Maimonides (the Rambam). He was born in Nieszwicz, Lithuania and learned Hebrew and Talmud from his father. Later he studied in the Yeshiva of Ivenets near Minsk. At the age of seven Maimon was able to study the Talmud by himself, at 11 he was married, and at the age of fourteen he became a father. In his autobiography he describes his life from the time of his marriage in Poland to the time he moved to Koenigsberg in East Prussia as "a series of miseries with want of all means for the promotion of culture." His aspiration for knowledge went beyond Jewish studies and he yearned for general education. By the age of 20 he had read physics and optics as well as historical books, he studied Jewish philosophical literature including the Kabbalah and wrote Givat Hamoreh, a commentary on Maimonides' More Nebuchim [Guide of the Perplexed].

In 1778 Maimon went to Koenigsberg (which became Kalingrad when the area was annexed to the Soviet Union in 1946) and then to Berlin. He had taught himself German. He was however rejected on account of a disagreement over his opinions of Maimonides. He wandered through Prussia for six months until Rabbi Hirsch Janower at Posen (now Poznan) was ready to take care and provide him for two years. Upon his return to Berlin, this time with recommendations, he was supported by Moses Mendelssohn, (on whose ideas the Haskalah, Jewish enlightenment, was founded), Lazarus Bendavid (a philosopher who was one of the first to advocate reforms in Jewish practice in order to stem conversions to Christianity) and physician Marcus Herz. He studied German philosophers, especially Leibnitz and Wollf. His articles were appreciated, but his arrogant behavior, his life style and radical ideas soon antagonized his protectors. He left Berlin, went to Holland, and then to Hamburg where, in order to improve his position, made an attempt to convert to Christianity. While doing so he declared to the clergyman that he still considered Judaism nearer to the truth than Christianity. This declaration denied him baptism.

He however acquired the means to enter a gymnasium in Altona near Hamburg in order to improve his knowledge of languages. After two years Maimon returned to Berlin and then to Breslau, where he was assisted by Ephraim Kuh and by the philosopher Garve, a friend of Mendelssohn. He translated Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden into Hebrew. In 1790, Maimon published his first book Versuch ueber die Transcendentalphilosophy, which attracted the attention of the greatest philosophers of that time, including Kant. In the preface of this work, dedicated to the king of Poland, Maimon pleaded in favor of his coreligionists. In 1791 he published Philosophisches Woerterbuch, a fragment of a dictionary of philosophical terms, and articles previously printed. In 1792 he edited his Kommentar zur More Newuchim des Maimonides and the treatise Ankuendigung und Aufforderung zu einer allgemeinen Revision der Wissenschaften. In 1794 he published Versuch einer neuen Logik, and in 1797, perhaps his most important work, Kritische Untersuchungen ueber den menschlichen Geis which secured for him a prominent position amongst the historians of philosophy. He criticized certain aspects of Kant’s thoughts. He also wrote notes and commentaries on Bacon and Aristotle, and two works in Hebrew Taalumoth Hochmah and Heshek Shlomoh which were not published.

In 1793 Maimon’s autobiography Salomon Maimons Leben was published. It had been edited by the German philologist Karl Philipp Moritz and was translated into several languages. In this he sets out his opinion of Kabbalah and his views of Judaism. He censures the rabbis for “burdening” the people with minute ceremonies but praises them for their high moral standards.Salomon

Miamon died in Nieder-Siegersdorf, Silesia, in 1800.
Phillips, Harold Meyer (1874 - ?), lawyer and chess-master. Born in Kalvaria, south western Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He was brought to the United States at the age of 13. After receiving his first degree from the College of the City of New York in 1896, he went on to study law at Columbia University and started to practice in New York City in 1899. In 1907, Phillips became attorney for the New York Taxpayers' Association, and subsequently became legal adviser to other well known organizations.

Phillip's career as a chess-master started when he won the New York Sun chess tournament in 1895. Thereafter he participated in various local, national and international tournaments. He was champion of the Manhattan Chess Club in 1902, and president of the Club from 1933 to 1941. In 1916 Phillips was elected president of the Intercollegiate Chess League. He was an important figure in the National Chess Federation of the United States.

Phillips was co-author of the Book of the Warsaw Tournament (1935). For a time he served as chairman of Scripta Methematica, a journal devoted to mathematics and science, and was also a director of Yeshiva College.
Portnoy Yekutiel (Noah; Yuzef), (1872-1941), one of the pioneers of the Bund, the Jewish Labour Union of Lithuania, Poland and Russia founded in 1897. He joined a revolutionary circle at the Jewish teachers seminary in Vilna (1888-92). While working as a teacher in Kovno (Kaunas) he was active amongst local Jewish workers and had contacts with socialists in Poland as well as throughout Lithuanian. He was exiled to Siberia on account of his revolutionary activities but managed to escape in 1899. Shortly thereafter he joined the central committee of the Bund. Portnoy edited the Bund's newspaper, "Arbeiter Shtimme", was in charge of its organization and gave ideas for its various programs.

In 1908 Portnoy settled in Warsaw. During World War I (1914-1918) he promoted cooperation between the Bund and Polish socialist parties, but was imprisoned by the Germans. After World War I, in independent Poland, he headed the central committee of the Bund, and from 1925 to 1930 he was its emissary in the Unites States. After the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939 he succeeded in escaping to the United States and served as head of the U.S. delegation of the Bund of Poland.
Charna, Shalom Yonah (1878-1932), educator and writer, born in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He studied at the Vilna Jewish Teachers Institute where he was influenced by Jewish nationalism, as opposed to many of his friends who tried to assimilate into the general community.

After graduation he taught Russian language and literature. He moved to Berlin, Germany, to continue his studies but returned to Russia to teach at the Grodno Teachers Seminary (now Hrodna, in Belarus). After the outbreak of the First World War the school moved to Kharkov, and he assisted with the organization of various courses at the school's new home. He left in 1920 when the Communists assumed power and introduced their anti-religious educational policies. Charna left for Kovno, Lithuania, where he headed the Jewish Seminary for two years before returning for Vilna where he became director of the Jewish Teachers Institute. He wrote articles on many subjects in Russian, German, Hebrew and Yiddish. He also wrote about the history of Jewish education.
Katzenellenbogen, Zvi Hirsch (Naphtali) (1796-1868), author and teacher. Lived in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), where he became one of the early Maskilim. He became director of Hebrew studies in the governmental rabbinical school, despite the objection of some traditional orthodox circles. The school was founded in 1847 and he served there for 18 years until his retirement.He was followed by his son Haim. Katzenellenbogen was well liked amongst all sectors and age groups in the community. He wrote articles for two periodicals. At the age of 26 he wrote "Netivot Olam", a commentary on part of the Shulchan Aruch. At the same age he wrote poetry and a number of eulogies including one on Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin entitled "Nahal Dimah".
Guezenburg, Mordechai Aaron (1795-1846), Hebrew author and founder of the first modern Jewish school in Lithuania, born in Salantai, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He lived in Vilna from 1835. Before that he was a private tutor. In 1841, together with Solomon Salkind, he founded a modern Jewish school and became its headmaster until his death. He was a member of the Haskalah and became its spokesman in Vilna. Guezenburg was a moderate member of the movement and opposed radicals; he was equally opposed to either orthodox or secular extremists. He practiced the social mitzvot which he considered to be social regulations, the observance of which was to the immediate benefit of community life. He wrote books on French and Russian History. He published two volumes of "Devir", an anthology of letters, essays and short stories written by famous people including Goethe and Heine. In it Guezenburg translated some of the letters of Eliezer Halevi, secretary to Moses Montefiore, who had accompanied his employer on his first visit to Eretz Israel. "Devir" inspired in its readers a love for Eretz Israel and influenced authors like Abraham Mapu and Kalman Shullman. Guezenburg's most original work was his autobiography "Avi-ezer" which attacked the educational system of the traditional heder. Guezenburg wrote in Mishnaic and Talmudic Hebrew.
Dick, Isaac Meir (1814-1893), writer of popular Yiddish fiction, born in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). Dick started to write, in both Yiddish and Hebrew, at the age of 24 (1838).

Dick is best known for the introduction of sentimental and realistic stories into Yiddish literature and is considered to be the first Yiddish author to use humour rather than satire. He used his stories to popularize the ideas of the Haskala and to promote ethical conduct. He wrote over 300 stories and short novels; altogether nearly 100,000 copies of his works were sold. Lacking literary sophistication, his works are today valued mainly for their wealth of folklore. His Yiddish stories were sometimes translations or free adaptations of stories in other languages. Many of his characters were later adopted by Shalom Aleichem and Al Peretz.

His first work was a Hebrew story "Zafrona" (1838) and in 1848 he produced a Hebrew parody "Massechet Aniyyut" ["Tractate on Poverty"]. Like other maskilim, Dick favoured certain reforms in Jewish life such as dignified synagogue services, modern schools and dress but traditional Jewish values were very dear to him and devoted much literary effort to their perpetuation. He wrote on Bible themes, compiled a popular version of the Shulchan Aruch, wrote on the Pesach Haggada, stories about Eretz Yisrael and a history of Jerusalem. He also summarized Jewish classical, medieval and contemporary writings for the average Yiddish reader. A volume of selected works was published in 1954.
"Hashomer Hatzahir" Members,
Pandelys, Lithuania, 1925.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Menahem Lonshtein, Israel)
The old synagogue of Vilkaviskis,
Lithuania, c.1910.
The synagogue was built in 1545,
and renovated in 1810.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Israel Sperling, Tel Aviv)
View by the river,
the samll town of Kelme, Lithuania, 1900s
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Mrs. Riva Lewis)
Members of the Natas family taking leave of their father before his departure to South Africa, Vyzuonos(Wizuny), Lithuania, August 1925.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Aleck Natas, Tel-Aviv).
Group pictures of Hashomer Hatzair,
Kalvarija, Lithuania, 1930
After the Germans occupied the town on June 22, 1941
The community was annihilated
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Zippora and Dr. Sariya Kahanovitz, Israel)
Members of the Jewish Fire Brigade,
Ritova (Rietavas), Lithuania, 1935
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Miriam Zvik, Tel-Aviv)
A Jewish street in Kovno, with Yiddish inscription on walls.
Kovno, 1985.
Photo : Leonid Kelbert, Jerusalem.
(Jerusalem, Leonid Kelbert collection)
Students in the 7th grade of the Hebrew Gymnasium,
Kovno, Lithuania, Purim 1929.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Menahem Lonshtein, Israel)
The Main Street of Rokiskis,
Lithuania, 1929.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Menahem Lonshtein, Israel)

Yitzhak Wittenberg (1907-1943), ghetto resistance fighter, born in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), into a working class family. He joined the communist party and was an activist when the Soviet Union ruled in Lithuania 1940-1941. After the Germans captured Vilna he was among the founders of the resistance movement and became the first commander of the Jewish fighters' organization in the Vilna ghetto. The fighters' organization was established after the Nazis transported more than 40,000 Vilna Jews to Ponary, where they systematically murdered them. [Ponary, now a suburb of Vilna, was the place where about 100,000 people, mainly Jews, were massacred by the Germans and Lithuanian collaborators between 1941 and 1944]. On July 15 1943, Wittenberg was betrayed by one of his contacts. The leaders of the fighters' organization were ordered to appear before Jacob Gens, a controversial figure who as chief of the Jewish police in the ghetto considered it as his duty to preserve the lives of as many Jews for as long as possible. In the presence of SS officers the fighters were told to hand over Wittenberg. He was taken into custody, but the SS men were attacked and in an exchange of fire the fighters succeeded in freeing him. The SS handed Gens an ultimatum that he must turn Wittenberg over or they would destroy the ghetto and all its inhabitants. Wittenberg argued that in any case the ghetto faced liquidation so he proposed an immediate start to the fighting, but a majority of the Communist fighters influenced him to give himself up. He turned himself over to the Germans, was subsequently tortured and died.

Charna, Shalom Yonah (1878-1932), educator and writer, born in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He studied at the Vilna Jewish Teachers Institute where he was influenced by Jewish nationalism, as opposed to many of his friends who tried to assimilate into the general community.

After graduation he taught Russian language and literature. He moved to Berlin, Germany, to continue his studies but returned to Russia to teach at the Grodno Teachers Seminary (now Hrodna, in Belarus). After the outbreak of the First World War the school moved to Kharkov, and he assisted with the organization of various courses at the school's new home. He left in 1920 when the Communists assumed power and introduced their anti-religious educational policies. Charna left for Kovno, Lithuania, where he headed the Jewish Seminary for two years before returning for Vilna where he became director of the Jewish Teachers Institute. He wrote articles on many subjects in Russian, German, Hebrew and Yiddish. He also wrote about the history of Jewish education.
Judah ben Eliezer (d.1762), rabbi, known as "Yesod", the Hebrew initials of Yehuda Safra ve-Dayan (judge on the Beth Din, the Jewish court), born Born in Vilna, Lithuania. He was a talmudist, communal worker and philanthropist. He studied in Vilna and became secretary for the community, dayan and, temporarily, rabbi, when he stood in for his son in law Samuel ben Avigdor. He used his standing in the community and his personal wealth to help other people and participated in the community's attempts to influence the local authorities. Yesod’s name appears frequently in communal records. One of the yeshivot in Vilna was named after him; he participated in the Mir conference in 1751.
Gordon, Michael (1823-1890), Hebrew and Yiddish poet, born in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). At an early age he joined the Haskalah circle of A.D. Lebensohn. His literary career started in 1847 with a Hebrew language elegy for Mordechai Aaron Guezenberg, another member of the group. After that he wrote articles for various periodicals and wrote two books, all in Hebrew. He became well known in the 1850s and 1860s when he wrote songs in Yiddish and then composed melodies to accompany them. 1860's he published these songs in "The beard and other Yiddish songs" (1868). The manuscript was published anonymously so as not to compromise his reputation as a poet. His best known song is "Arise my People"(1869) which was considered to be a classic Yiddish expression of the spirit of the Haskalah movement in Russia. That year he also wrote a Yiddish edition on the history of Russia. He married the sister of J.L. Gordon, and influenced the Hebrew and Yiddish poetry of his brother in law. In his later years he was increasingly poor and lonely. This was clearly reflected in his songs written towards the end of his life.
Shabbtai Ben Meir Ha-Kohen (1621-1662), rabbi, commentator on the Shulhan Arukh, and posek [rabbinical "decider" who was recognized as having the authority to determined Jewish law]. Born in Amstivov near Vilkaviskis, Lithuania, Shabbtai studied under Joshua Hoeschel ben Joseph both in Tykocin (north eastern Poland) and then in the Yeshivah of Krakow. In Lublin he studied under Naphtali Ben Isaac ha-Kohen. Settling in Vilna, he married the daughter of Samson Wolf, a grandson of Moses Isserles. His father-in-law provided his material needs, which enabled him to devote himself wholly to study. He was appointed dayan of the Bet Din of Moses Lima in Vilna.

Shabbtai published his first work Siftei Kohen, a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah in Krakow in 1646. The work received high praise from leading Polish and Lithuanian scholars and since 1674 has been published as an integral part of most editions of the Yoreh De'ah. In this work Shabbtai attempts to explain and clarify Joseph Caro’s rulings in the Shulchan Aruch and to rule on the criticisms of Moses Isserles. A lengthy dispute ensured with Rabbi David Ben Samuel ha-Levi, another renowned posek, who proceeded to publish Turei Zahav, his own commentary on the Yoreh De'ah. Shabbtai and Ha-Levi wrote several rebuttals and counter-rebuttals of one another’s views. The halachic dispute between the two was continued after their deaths by other scholars. In most cases the rabbis of Poland and Lithuania ruled in accordance with Shabbtai, while those of Germany accepted the view of David ha-Levi. In contrast to previous generations of Polish scholars Shabbtai gave his full support to Joseph Caro’s rulings in the Shulchan Aruch.

Shabbtai also wrote a commentary on the Hoshen Mishpat, published after his death together with the text of the Shulhan Arukh (Amsterdam, 1663). In this work he explains, but also offers some criticisms, of the rulings of Caro. Shabbtai's conclusions were based not only upon Talmudic principles and rulings of other poskim but also upon straight logic. His work is a classic of its kind and still today it is considered to be an authoritative reference work for halachic authorities.

During the anti-Jewish violence in 1655, Shabbtai fled from Vilna to Lublin. Three month later the rioters reached Lublin and Shabbtai escaped to Bohemia. He stayed first in Prague, and then for a time in Dresnitz, Moravia, after which he was appointed rabbi of Holesov, where he died. In an important historical work Meggilat Eifah Shabbtai described the Ukrainian rebellions against the Poles which to a large measure were directed against the Jews. The year 1635 saw the first big explosion of violence in Ukraine but this attempt at the revolution was crushed. It returned with new vigor thirteen years later. This second rebellion, in 1648-9, succeeded in freeing a large part of the Ukraine from Polish rule. In the course of the violence Ukrainian leader, Bogdan Chmielnicki, one of the greatest anti-Semites in history, organized the murder of an estimated 100,000 Jews in the most horrendous ways.

Shabbtai also composed Selichot (Amsterdam, 1651). His other works are: He-Arukh (Berlin, 1767), a commentary on the Arba'ah Turim (a forerunner of the Shulchan Aruch written by Jacob ben Asher), Tokfo Kohen (Frankfort/Oder, 1677), on the laws of possession; Gevurat Anashim (Dessau, 1697), on chapter 154 of the Shulchan Aruch; and Po'el Zedek (Jesenice, 1720), on the 613 commandments as enumerated by Maimonides.
Portnoy Yekutiel (Noah; Yuzef), (1872-1941), one of the pioneers of the Bund, the Jewish Labour Union of Lithuania, Poland and Russia founded in 1897. He joined a revolutionary circle at the Jewish teachers seminary in Vilna (1888-92). While working as a teacher in Kovno (Kaunas) he was active amongst local Jewish workers and had contacts with socialists in Poland as well as throughout Lithuanian. He was exiled to Siberia on account of his revolutionary activities but managed to escape in 1899. Shortly thereafter he joined the central committee of the Bund. Portnoy edited the Bund's newspaper, "Arbeiter Shtimme", was in charge of its organization and gave ideas for its various programs.

In 1908 Portnoy settled in Warsaw. During World War I (1914-1918) he promoted cooperation between the Bund and Polish socialist parties, but was imprisoned by the Germans. After World War I, in independent Poland, he headed the central committee of the Bund, and from 1925 to 1930 he was its emissary in the Unites States. After the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939 he succeeded in escaping to the United States and served as head of the U.S. delegation of the Bund of Poland.
Abrahamsky, Yehezkel (1886-1976). He was a Talmudic scholar and considered by many to be one of the world leading Orthodox rabbis of the 20th century. Abrahamsky was born near Grodno then Lithuania (now in Belarus), the son of a local timber merchant. He studied in the yeshivot of Telz, Mir, Slobodka and Brisk under Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik. He also studied under Rabbi Haim Ozer Grodenzki of Vilna. He was ordained as a rabbi at the age of 17 and served in Smolensk and Slutsk. During World War I and the early 1920's, he went from place to place in Russia (and the Soviet Union, as it became) seeking to strengthen Jewish observance. In 1926 and again in 1928 he applied for permission to leave the Soviet Union to take up a rabbinical position in Petach Tikva, Eretz Israel – but on both occasions he was refused. In 1928, to his surprise the Soviets allowed him to start a Hebrew magazine, Yagdil Torah, but it was closed down after two issues. In 1929 he was arrested as a "counter revolutionary" (1930), and was sentenced to a term of hard labour in Siberia. Two years later, he was released with the help of his wife and friends, and went to London, England.

In London Abrahamsky was first appointed rabbi of the Machzike Hadath congregation. In 1934 he was made senior dayan of the London Beth Din, a position which he held until 1951. The appointment of an Eastern European traditional rabbi to the London Beth Din was a departure which changed the character of the organization and the leadership of Anglo-Jewry. In 1951 he moved to Israel where he became member of the Moetzet Gedolei ha-Torah, the supervisory rabbinical body of of Agudat Israel and served as Rosh Yeshiva of the Slobodka yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

He was a profuse writer and was awarded the Israel Prize for his rabbinical literature in 1955. Some of his responsa were published in London (1937). His most important work was "Hazon Yehezkel", a 24 volume commentary on the Tosefta written between 1925 and 1975.
Wolfson, Harry Austryn (1887-1974), scholar, philosopher and historian at Harvard University. He is probably best known as the first chairman of a department of Jewish studies at a major US university. Born in Astryna, province of Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), he studied at the Slobodka Yeshiva under Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein and on his immigration to the United States, in 1903, at the Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan. He was awarded a scholarship to Harvard University where he received his bachelors and masters degrees and finally, in 1915, a Ph.D. He was a Harvard Sheldon Traveling Fellow from 1912 to 1914, and studied in France, Germany and England. He remained at Harvard for the remainder of his careeer.

In 1915 Wolfson was appointed instructor in Jewish literature and philosophy at Harvard. He became assistant professor in 1921. He also taught at the Jewish Institute of Religion from 1923 to 1925 as professor of Jewish history and philosophy. In 1925 he was appointed Nathan Littauer Professor of Jewish Literature and Philosophy at Harvard, teaching text courses in Talmud, Midrash, Biblical commentaries and medieval philosophy. He held this position for almost half a century. He was honorary curator of Jewish history and literature in the University. He received honorary doctorates from 10 different universities. He was a founding member and in 1935-7 president of the American Academy for Jewish Research

Wolfson is the author of many articles and essays on Jewish and general subjects, in both English and Hebrew. His major works are on philosophy. He wrote a translation and commentary on Crescas' Critique of Aristotle: Problems of Aristotle's Physics in Jewish and Arabic Philosophy (1929). In 1934 he published The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of his Reasoning. In 1947 emerged perhaps his most important book, Philo: Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He published his work on The Philosophy of the Church Fathers in 1956 and The Philosophy of the Kalam (1979) [Kalam is the Islamic philosophy of seeking theological principles]. In many ways he broke down the artificial barriers between the studies of Christian, Jewish and Islamic philosophy,

Other important works, which clearly demonstrate Wolfson's range of scholarship, included The meaning of "ex Nihilo" in the Church Fathers, Arabic and Hebrew Philosophy(1948), The Internal Senses in Latin, Arabic and Hebrew Philosophical texts (1935), The Amphibolous terms in Arustotle, Arabic Philosophy and Maimionides (1938), and The Testimony of Clemens of Alexandria Concerning an Unknown Custom in the Yom Kippur Avodah in the Temple, (1936). His articles include Classification of the Sciences in Medieval Jewish Philosophy (1925); On Maimonides' Classification of the Sciences (1936); and a study of Solomon Pappenheim on Time and Space and His Relation to Locke and Kant, (1927).

Wolfson was a member of the board of the American Philosophical Society, the American Oriental Society, the Mediaeval Academy of America, and the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis; he was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Jewish Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Druyanov (Drujanow), Alter (1870-1938), Hebrew writer and Zionist leader, born near Vilna,Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire) and studied in the Volozhin yeshiva. When he was 20 years old he start to write for Hebrew language magazines using several pen names. He went to live in Odessa, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire), where he met many Zionists, was infuenced by them and became secretary of the "Va'ad le-Yishuv Erets-Yisrael" ("Committee for the Settlement of the Land of Israel"). He migrated to Palestine in 1906, but was not able to earn a living there so in 1909 he returned to Russia where he became editor of the Hebrew language newspaper "HaOlam", the official journal of the World Zionist Organization, a position he filled until 1914.

In 1921, Druyanov returned to Eretz Israel where he met up with H.N.Bialik and Y.K. Ravnitski. Together they edited the first four volumes of "Reshumot" (1919-1926), a Hebrew journal devoted to Jewish folklore. Druyanov's own writing included Zionist articles, literary criticism, and journalistic articles on subjects of public interest.

Druyanov is chiefly remembered today for his three-volume anthology of Jewish humor, "Sefer HaBedikha ve-HaKhidud" ("Book of Jokes and Wit"). He also edited the chapters of modern Hebrew literature, folklore and geography of Eretz Israel in the Hebrew and German Encyclopedia "Eshkol".
Goslar, Hans (1889-1945), journalist, economist and official of Prussian government during the Weimar Republic, born in Hanover, Germany, the son of businessman Gustav Goslar, who had lived in Hanover since 1870. In 1894 the family moved to Berlin, where he joined the Zionist Youth Movement. He studied at the Graduate School in Berlin and became an economist and business journalist. He wrote for several leading business newspapers including the "Norddeutsche" and the "Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung". He later became editor of the economic journal "Plutus". From 1915 Goslar served in the German army and was assigned to the headquarters press department. The following year he became involved in the German administration of Lithuania and became editor of the Lithuanian newspaper "Dabartis". His service in eastern Europe enabled him to meet the Jewish masses in these areas. It changed his religious outlook.

In November 1919 he was named director of the press section of the Prussian government. His responsibilities included the establishment of a press service. He held this position until the overthrow of the republic by the Nazis in 1932. Goslar spoke out against increasing discrimination against Jews in the the Socialist Party and was quick to recognize the dangers of antisemitism. He was one of the leading of the Jewish People's Party. Throughout the period he was active in general Jewish, Zionist and Mizrachi activities. 1925 he was elected to the Prussian State Association of Jewish communities. Between 1928 and 1933 he, as a religious Zionist, was a member of the assembly of representatives of the Jewish community of Berlin. Goslar with his family fled Germany in 1933 and moved to Amsterdam, Holland, where he initially received a pension from the Prussian State and worked with lawyer Franz Ledermann to aid other Jews to leave Nazi Germany. [Ledermann was the father of Anne Frank's girlfriend Susan].

In 1943 Goslar and his immediate family were arrested and sent to the Westerbork concentration camp. In 1944 they were transferred to Bergen Belsen concentration camp. He was died a few days before the liberation, but his daughters survived a death march. They moved first to Switzerland and later emigrated to Israel.

Goslar wrote a number of books on Jewish subjects. In 1919 he published "Die Sexualethik der juedischen Wiedergeburt" in which he urged a return to Jewish family ethics.
Dick, Isaac Meir (1814-1893), writer of popular Yiddish fiction, born in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). Dick started to write, in both Yiddish and Hebrew, at the age of 24 (1838).

Dick is best known for the introduction of sentimental and realistic stories into Yiddish literature and is considered to be the first Yiddish author to use humour rather than satire. He used his stories to popularize the ideas of the Haskala and to promote ethical conduct. He wrote over 300 stories and short novels; altogether nearly 100,000 copies of his works were sold. Lacking literary sophistication, his works are today valued mainly for their wealth of folklore. His Yiddish stories were sometimes translations or free adaptations of stories in other languages. Many of his characters were later adopted by Shalom Aleichem and Al Peretz.

His first work was a Hebrew story "Zafrona" (1838) and in 1848 he produced a Hebrew parody "Massechet Aniyyut" ["Tractate on Poverty"]. Like other maskilim, Dick favoured certain reforms in Jewish life such as dignified synagogue services, modern schools and dress but traditional Jewish values were very dear to him and devoted much literary effort to their perpetuation. He wrote on Bible themes, compiled a popular version of the Shulchan Aruch, wrote on the Pesach Haggada, stories about Eretz Yisrael and a history of Jerusalem. He also summarized Jewish classical, medieval and contemporary writings for the average Yiddish reader. A volume of selected works was published in 1954.
Ish-Kishor, Ephraim (1863-1945), Zionist leader in England, born in Ponjemon, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). Ish-Kishor went to live in England when he was about 17 years old and supported himself by teaching Hebrew.

He wrote essays and articles in British magazines with the aim of supporting political Zionism. In 1896 he met Theodor Herzl and suggested that Herzl should set up a mass Zionist movement. He later participated in the first Zionist Congress (1897) and was an active member of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. He immigrated to Palestine in 1933 and helped to found the Judea Insurance Company.
Mileikowsky, Nathan (Netanyahu), (1879-1935), Zionist preacher, born near in Kreva, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire, now in Belarus). He was educated in the Volozhin yeshivah and ordained in the rabbinate. He displayed talent as a preacher and speaker and spent two years with the preacher J.L. Yevzerow. At the turn of the century, when he was about 20 years of age, he was sent by Y. Tschlenow on a propaganda tour of Siberia. From that time Mileikowsky became an ardent speaker on behalf of Zionism.

In 1908 he moved to Warsaw, Poland, where he taught at the Hebrew high school of M. Krinski and took part in its management. Concurrently he continued his propaganda tours throughout Poland's cities and towns. During World War I he was a preacher in the Ohel Ya'akov synagogue in Lodz.

In 1920 Mileykowsky emigrated to Palestine. He held a position of principal in a school in Safed. From 1924 to 1929 he served as an emissary on behalf of the Jewish National Fund and the Keren Hayesod in England, Carpatho-Russia (then part of Czechoslovakia) and the United States of America.

Toward the end of his life he lived in Herzliyah and was active in the Farmers' Association. During the Arlosoroff murder trial (1933-1934), he set up a committee for the defense of the accused.

Some of his speeches are included in the anthologies Ha-Nevi'im ve-ha-Am ("The Prophets and the People," 1913) and Folk un Land (1928).

Nathan Mileikowsky is the granfather of Benjamin Nethanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel.
Phillips, Harold Meyer (1874 - ?), lawyer and chess-master. Born in Kalvaria, south western Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He was brought to the United States at the age of 13. After receiving his first degree from the College of the City of New York in 1896, he went on to study law at Columbia University and started to practice in New York City in 1899. In 1907, Phillips became attorney for the New York Taxpayers' Association, and subsequently became legal adviser to other well known organizations.

Phillip's career as a chess-master started when he won the New York Sun chess tournament in 1895. Thereafter he participated in various local, national and international tournaments. He was champion of the Manhattan Chess Club in 1902, and president of the Club from 1933 to 1941. In 1916 Phillips was elected president of the Intercollegiate Chess League. He was an important figure in the National Chess Federation of the United States.

Phillips was co-author of the Book of the Warsaw Tournament (1935). For a time he served as chairman of Scripta Methematica, a journal devoted to mathematics and science, and was also a director of Yeshiva College.
Dineson, Jacob (1856-1919), Yiddish novelist, born in the Kovno region of Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He received a traditional Jewish education, but was attracted to the Haskalah movement, and wrote articles in Hebrew for various Jewish periodicals.

At the young age of 20 Dineson published his first Yidddish novel, "For the Sins of the Parents", which was banned by the Russian censor. A year later he published his second novel, "The beloved and the pleasant", which was extremely well received by Jewish readers and sold more than two hundred thousand copies. He was one of the first to write sentimental novels in Yiddish for popular audiences, and the Jewish public devoured his later novels "Even Negef" (1890), "Hershele" (1891) and "Yosele" (1899). He was also instrumental in reorganizing and modernizing the elementary Jewish education in Lithuania, and introducing to them a secular curriculum. He was a close friend of I.L. Peretz, and helped to make him better known.
Guezenburg, Mordechai Aaron (1795-1846), Hebrew author and founder of the first modern Jewish school in Lithuania, born in Salantai, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He lived in Vilna from 1835. Before that he was a private tutor. In 1841, together with Solomon Salkind, he founded a modern Jewish school and became its headmaster until his death. He was a member of the Haskalah and became its spokesman in Vilna. Guezenburg was a moderate member of the movement and opposed radicals; he was equally opposed to either orthodox or secular extremists. He practiced the social mitzvot which he considered to be social regulations, the observance of which was to the immediate benefit of community life. He wrote books on French and Russian History. He published two volumes of "Devir", an anthology of letters, essays and short stories written by famous people including Goethe and Heine. In it Guezenburg translated some of the letters of Eliezer Halevi, secretary to Moses Montefiore, who had accompanied his employer on his first visit to Eretz Israel. "Devir" inspired in its readers a love for Eretz Israel and influenced authors like Abraham Mapu and Kalman Shullman. Guezenburg's most original work was his autobiography "Avi-ezer" which attacked the educational system of the traditional heder. Guezenburg wrote in Mishnaic and Talmudic Hebrew.
Gordon, David (1831-1886), journalist and editor, born in Podmerecz, a village near Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). Initially he studied in yeshivah, but was influenced by the Haskala movement and went on to study secular subjects. In 1849, at the age of eighteen he became teacher at Segei. For several years he taught Hebrew and German in England. In 1858 he returned to Lithuania and lived in the town of Lyck, then in East Prussia, now north east Poland, where he was asked by Eliezer Lipmann Silbermann to become assistant editor of the first Hebrew weekly newspaper, Ha-Maggid. In 1880 he became the official editor of the weekly, although unofficially he had held the position for some years. He also edited a supplement to Ha-Maggid, called Maggid Mishneh, which was devoted to scientific and literary matters. In Ha-Maggid he openly called for the return of Jews to Zion, one of the first Zionist leaders to do so. Gordon was one of the foremost members of the Hibbat Zion movement, which was founded in the early 1880s. Ha-Maggid became the voice of the Hibbat Zion movement. He also edited a German language newspaper in Lyck and contributed articles to the Jewish Chronicle and London “Times”.
Moses ben Mordechai Meisel (c.1760-1838), torah scholar, author, maskil. Born in Vilna, Lithuania.

In his youth Meisel was one of the pupils closest to the Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, the.Vilna Gaon. Later, he came under the influence of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the founder of Habad and he joined the Hassidic movement. In consequence, fearing persecution by the conservative Vilna religious establishment, Meisel fled to Germany. He had no desire to participate in the bitter controversies which divided Polish Jewry at that time. In Germany he became familiar with German literature and studied the writings of Moses Mendelssohn and other members of the Haskalah movement. During the Napoleonic Wars, Meisel conferred with representatives of the French government on several occasions. Shneur Zalman convinced him to stop these talks; this aroused the suspicions of Napoleon's aides who were convinced that he was collaborating with the Russians and Meisel was compelled to flee. He went to Eretz Israel and in 1813 lived in Hebron. He returned to Lithuania only after the French defeat. During the 1820s he went once more to Hebron, and in his last years he was closely associated with Sir Moses Montefiore.

Moses Meisel's poem Shirat Mosheh (Shklov, 1788) is based on the 613 laws which govern Jewish life, each line of the poem begins with a letter from the Ten Commandments.
Meisel died in Hebron in c.1838.
Baal-Machshevet (Israel Isidor Elyashiv) (1873-1924), Yiddish literary critic. Born in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He was educated at the Yeshiva of Courland, (now part of Latvia), where students learned both religious and secular subjects such as mathematics, geography, German language and also Jewish studies including Torat ha-Musar. His outlook on life became somewhat sceptical, a view expressed in his "Ironistic Tales" (1910). He went on to study at a Swiss high school and then medicine at Heidelberg and Berlin, Germany. He practiced medicine in Lithuania and also in Warsaw and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Elyashiv's main interest was in writing and literary criticism. He started writing in German and Russian at the age of 23 (1896). He published his first literary criticism in Yiddish five years later, influenced by J.L. Peretz. He continued to write in Yiddish. In his essay "Two Languages- One Literature", he wrote that although the Jews speak and write different languages, their culture is the same. He thought that both Hebrew and Yiddish should be recognized as national Jewish languages, the first to connect to Jewish sources, and the latter to connect with Jews throughout the Diaspora. An ardent Zionist he translated "Altneuland" by Theodor Herzl into Yiddish and attended some of the Zionist Congresses. During WWI he served as a medical officer in the Russian Army. After the war he left for Berlin and, from 1922 to his death, edited a Yiddish newspaper. He wrote essays about the important Jewish authors of his time.
Gershuni, Grigori Andreyevich (1870-1908), revolutionary, born in Tavrova in Kovno province, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), to a Jewish peasant family. He studied for a short period in the religious “heder”, and was sent by his parents to a secular Russian high school in Shavli (Siauliai), Lithuania, until the age of 15. He then became a pharmacist's apprentice. In 1898 he moved to Minsk (now in Belarus), where he set up a bacteriological laboratory.

He joined the quasi-legal educational circles of the working class and was gradually drawn into clandestine activities. He came under the influence of Yekaterina Breshkovskaya, the “grandmother” of the Russian revolution. In 1900 he was arrested by the police who tried in vain to persuade him to support the Czar. Gershuni joined an anti-Czar terrorist group. In 1901 he was amongst the founders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and headed the Fighting Organization of the party which was responsible for the murders of a number of important government ministers and officials. He was betrayed and turned over to the police. Gershuni was sentenced to death by a military tribunal but the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, first in Schluesselburg fortress and later in Siberia. He escaped from prison and reached the USA via Japan and China, where he met Sun Yat Sen, one of the founders of modern China. In the USA he addressed meetings of Jewish and other workers and collected funds for the Russian Socialist Revolutionary Party. In 1906 he returned to Europe to persuade people to rise up against the regime of the Czar. He contacted tuberculosis and died in Zurich, Switzerland. He is buried in Paris,France.

Despite being completely assimilated into Russian culture Gershuni felt strongly about his Jewish ancestry. In order to avoid the taunts of anti-Semites he always stressed the proud behavior of the Jews in the revolutionary movement and violently rejected the attitude that Jews were cowards.
Weiter, A. pseudonym of Eisik Meir Devenishsky (1877-1919), political agitator, and Yiddish writer. Born in Biniakon, a village near Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He received a traditional education but joined the revolutionary movement, becoming active in the Jewish Labor Bund. He edited the movement's organ Der Werker. In 1899 and again in 1902-4 Weiter was imprisoned for his activities. He returned to Vilna and participated in the 1905 Russian Revolution. After the failure of the revolution he devoted himself to writing and campaigned for national rights for the Jews. In 1912 he was exiled to Siberia, where he remained until the outbreak of the 1917 Revolution. He then lived in Petrograd and Nizhni Novgorod and at the end of 1918 returned to Vilna where he was shot by the Polish Legionnaires who occupied the city in 1919

Weiter wrote plays, short stories, and essays. His early writings were of a political nature, but from 1906 his plays were free of any political motifs. In his blank-verse play, Fartog (1907), he portrayed the mood of Jewish intellectuals on the eve of the 1905 Russian Revolution. In Fayer (1910), he expressed the alienation and loneliness of the younger generation and their longing for a full and creative Jewish life. In his Der Shtumer (1912), he described the suffering of his generation, whose expectations for a new freedom were not fulfilled. In 1908, together with S. Gorelik and Samuel Niger, Weiter edited the Literarishe Monatshriften, a monthly which became a rallying point for young writers who believed in a renaissance of Jewish life and a revitalized Jewish culture. Among the works that Weiter translated were Gorki's My Childhood and Max Halbe's In Stream (together with Z. Reizen). As a journalist he contributed to Falks Zeitung, to Friend and to Morgenstern.

In 1920, the Weiter Buch was published in his memory in Vilna.
Abraham ben Benjamin Zeev Brisker (? - 1700). Lithuanian author and preacher. He was born in Lithuania (then in union with Poland), but was forced to leave the country after Cossack uprising led by Bogdan Chmielnicki and the resulting murder of tens of thousands of Jews (1650-55). He left for Vienna, Austria, where he studied under R. Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz. The religious fanaticism of the Emperor Leopold I led to the expulsion of the Jews from Vienna in 1669-1670, so he was once again forced to flee. Avraham ben Benjamin returned to Brest Litovsk, Lithuania. He continued his studies under R.Mordecai Guenzburg and R.Zevi Hirsch.

The traumatic times through which he lived naturally influenced him greatly. He had intentions of immigrating to the Land of Israel, but his plans did not materialize. He was one of the representatives of Brest Litovsk at the meeting of the Council of the Lands in Lublin (1683). He wrote several books. "Zera Avraham" deals with the weekly portion of the Torah, "Asarah Maamarot" is an assortment of articles including a renowned study of Ethics of the Fathers Chapter 6 (Pirkey Avot, 6). He wrote also "Hesed Avraham", a Kabalistic commentary on the weekly Torah portion.
Susskind, Alexander ben Moses of Grodno, ( ? - 1793 ). Kabbalist and author. The name was later changed to Braudes Alexander Susskind ben Moses.

He lived all his life in Grodno, Poland-Lithuania (now Hrodna, in Belarus). His life was devoted to study and prayer. Many stories are told about his good nature and the help he extended to his fellow Jews. One such story tells of the solace he offered to a fatally wounded victim of a blood libel shortly. Another one is about the money he collected illegally to support the poverty-stricken Jews of Eretz Israel.

Alexander wrote several books. The best known is "Yesod ve-Shoresh ha-Avodah" which describes aspects of Jewish life. He stressed that to be a good Jew one has to love God and love the Jewish people in equal measure. In his eyes it was not enough just to observe Jewish law or to perform a good deed, it was essential to do so with the correct intention. After a person was thoroughly conversant with the Talmud, he should. proceed to study Mussar (ethics) and then the Kabbala, he argued. One of his sayings was "Worship the Lord in Joy". He also said "when a man sits in his dwelling, the Shadow of Faith (the Shechina) spreads out His Wings over him from above. Rabbi Nahman of Braslav said of Susskind that "he was a Hassid before there were Hasssidim".
Rosowsky, Baruch Leib - was born in a village near Vilna
Margoliot, Moses Ben Simeon (? -1781), rabbi and commentator on the Jerusalem Talmud. Born in Kedziniai, near Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania. He served as rabbi in several communities in the Samogitia region of western Lithuania. Later he was appointed rabbi to communities in Amsterdam, London and finally in Livorno, Italy.
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Rabbi Margoliot owes his renown to the commentary which he wrote on the Jerusalem Talmud, probably the first comprehensive commentary of this work and one which it is still considered the standard commentary. It is partly an explanation of the literal text and partly a comparison with the Babylonian Talmud. He set out to explain the differences between the two with regard to both text and content. The commentary to the order of Nashim was printed in Amsterdam in 1754, that of the orders Nezikin and Niddah were published in Livorno in 1770 and the remainder were published after his death. Margoliot paid careful attention to textual problems and relied on early manuscripts for clarifications. In addition he made extensive use of the Tosefta (a compilation of Oral Jewish Law written about 200CE which supplements the Mishna) in order to gain insights into the intentions of the authors. Margoliot also studied the natural sciences which certainly aided him in understanding the laws of Eretz Israel and in analyzing the order Zeraim for which there is no Gemara in the Babylonian Talmud. In his commentary, Margoliot mentions two of his other works: Be'er Mayyim Hayyim a commentary to the tractates Shabbat and Eruvin, and P'nei ha-Menorah, on the Pentateuch. These have apparently not survived.

Moses Margoliot died in Brody, Galicia (now in Ukraine).
Plungian (originally Plungianski), Mordecai (1814-1883), Hebrew writer. Born in Plungian district of Kovno, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). He learned for rabbinical office, but later was attracted to the Haskalah movement and became one of its most prominent adherents.

Nevertheless he dissociated himself from both extremist Haskalah ideology and also from unenlightened Orthodoxy. This angered some of the more traditional rabbis; as a result Plungian backed down and destroyed the manuscript of the second part of his biography of R. Manasseh b. Joseph of Ilya, Ben Porat (1858). More of his works are: Talpioth, on methods of explaining the Talmud (1849); two works entitled Kerem Lishlomoh, commentaries on Ecclesiastes (1851), Shevet Eloha, against the anti-Semitic blood libels (1862); Or Boker, (part of a large work on the reading of the Torah, 1868), and Song of Songs (1877). He contributed to the journals Kerem Hemed, Ha-Magid, Ha-Karmel, and Ha-Shahar and also wrote poetry. Plungian translated into Yiddish the Hayye Adam and Hochmat Adam of Abraham Danzig.
Finkel, Eliezer Judah (1879-1965), Rosh Yeshiva (Head of yeshiva), son of Rabbi Nathan Zvi Frankel, the "Alter of Slovodka". Frankel received his early education from his father but he went on to study at the Lithuanian yeshivot of Slovodka, Radin and Mir. In 1903 he married the daughter of Rav Eliyahu Baruch Kamai, head of the Mir yeshiva (near Minsk, now in Belarus), and four years later succeeded him as Rosh Yeshiva. If during the tenure of Rabbi Kamai the yeshiva wavered between those in favour and those against, under the influence of Rabbi Finkel the Mir Yeshiva definitively joined the Mussar movement. He was a charismatic teacher and good administrator. He was extremely close to his students and spent much of his time teaching and advising them. Under his leadership the Mir Yeshiva became one of the largest and most influential of all yeshivot.
The Yeshiva burnt down in 1911 but it was quickly rebuilt and extended. The destruction and resulting hardships of World War I caused Rabbi Finkel to move the yeshiva to Poltava in the Ukraine. It did not return to Mir until 1921, by which time the town became part of Poland while Minsk was in the new USSR. After the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland, the town found itself in Soviet territory so in 1940 the Yeshiva with about 300 students and rabbis moved again, this time to Kaiden in still independent Lithuania. With the advance of the Nazis the students and rabbis had to make further attempts to escape. Some fled to Japan and Shanghai, while others made it to the USA. Rabbi Finkel himself reached Jerusalem, where the yeshiva was reconstituted in 1944.
He became "Zaken Rashei Yeshivot" (doyen of the heads of yeshivot) and was supported by the most important rabbis of his generation Hafez Hayyim and Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski.
Rabinowitz Louis Mayer (1887-1957), manufacturer, philanthropist. Born in Rosanne, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), he emigrated to the USA in 1901. In 1916 Rabinowitz established a corset manufacturing company in New York, and subsequently became chairman of the US corset industry association (1934). In 1935 he became director of the Businessmen’s Council.

Rabinowitz was deeply involved in Jewish communal causes. He was vice-president of the Hebrew National Orphan Home (1921), the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn, the American Jewish Historical Society, the New York chapter of the American-Israel Society, and director of the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City (1935).

Rabinowitz was also a collector of books, manuscripts, and paintings. The collection was bequeathed to the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Yale University. At Yale he created the Rabinowitz Fund for Judaica Research and established a chair in Semitic languages and literature (1935). He served as director of the Yale University Association of Fine Arts and as honorary trustee of the Yale Library Associates. In 1942 he donated a collection of over 300 reproductions of classical and modern art to the National Jewish Hospital of Denver. He endowed a surgical fellowship at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn and donated several murals to the building. A director of the Jewish Theological Seminary, he established the Louis M. Rabinowitz Institute for Research in Rabbinics at the seminary in 1951, and donated many rare books to its library. In 1953, in conjunction with the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati the Louis M. Rabinowitz Foundation sponsored a five-year archeological project in Israel.
Eisenstadt, Abraham Zvi Hirsch ben Jacob (1813-1868), rabbi and halakhic authority, born in Bialystok, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire). At the young age of 23, he was appointed rabbi of Berestovitsa, district of Grodno (1836). In 1856 he became rabbi of Utena (district of Kovno), Lithuania.

He set out to collect and digest the halachic material scattered throughout rabbinical responsa and decisions and then relate it to the Joseph Caro’s Shulchan Aruch. He also wished to explain the logic of the arguments used by the writers of these responsa. Eisenstadt’s work was therefore intended to assist later rabbis to make decisions and come to conclusions on problems which had occurred as a result of changing circumstances since the time when Shulchan Aruch was written. He believed that it was impossible to come to any practical conclusion on the basis of the basis of the original text alone and therefore his books were to fill in a missing link in the chain of rabbinical literature. Eisenstadt prepared his “Pitchei Teshuvah” commentary on the Yoreh De’ah, Even Ha-Ezer and Chosen Mishpat sections of the Shulchan Aruch. [The "Orech Hayim" part had been similarly covered by the work of Haim Mordechai Margolioth of Dubnow]. At the end of his introduction to "Even Ha-Ezer", Eisenstadt set out the 180 volumes of rabbinic responsa which he had scanned.

"Pitchei Teshuvah" on "Yoreh De’ah" and "Even Ha-Ezer" were published in 1836 and 1861, while the work on "Chosen Mishpat" was published after his death in 1875. His works were highly appreciated by other halakhists and remain in use to this day. Eisenstadt's son and later his grandson succeeded him in his capacity of rabbi of Utena.
Yehoash, pseudonym of Yehoash Solomon Bloomgarden (1872-1927), Yiddish poet and Bible translator. Yehoash was "generally recognized by those familiar with this literature [Yiddish], as its greatest living poet and one of its most skillful raconteurs", according to a New York Times book review in 1923. Born in Vierzbolavo, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), he received a traditional yeshiva education but he came under the influence of the Haskala.
In 1890 he emigrated to the USA but made little headway with his writing until the early 1900s. His output included verse, translations, poetry, short stories, essays and fables in Yiddish and some articles in English. He started to translate the Bible into modern Yiddish – a work which was hailed as a contribution of national significance and perhaps the greatest masterpiece in the Yiddish language. His two volume edition of the Pentateuch became a standard work for Yiddish speaking homes. In 1911, together with Charles Spivak he prepared a Yiddish dictionary which defined about 4,000 Hebrew and Aramaic words used in Yiddish and which went through many editions as a basic reference book. His renderings in Yiddish of the books of Isaiah and Job were published in 1910

In January 1914, he left for Eretz Israel and lived for a short time in Rehovot. He mastered classical Arabic and translated portions of the Koran and Arabian tales into Yiddish. On his return to New York he wrote a three-volume work describing the trip and the country Fun New York biz Rekhovot und Tsurik ("From New York to Rehovot and Back," 1917-18). His description was later translated into English as The Feet of the Messenger.

Yehoash's own poetry was considered to be far ahead of his time. When the first edition of his Gezamelte Lider ("Collected Poems") appeared in 1907, he was widely hailed as a first-rank artist. His lyrics were reprinted in anthologies and school texts, and were translated into Russian, Dutch, Polish, Finnish, German, Spanish, English and Hebrew. An English translation, Poems of Yehoash, by Isidor Goldstick appeared in 1952 and a Hebrew version in1957. Two later volumes of lyrics (1919) and (1921) linked him with Inzikhism, the modernist trend of introspection in post-World War I Yiddish poetry. He retold in verse biblical and post-biblical legends, tales from medieval Jewish chronicles, Hasidic lore and even stories from the Talmud. Yehoash translated a number of world renowned books into Yiddish, including Longfellow's Hiawatha and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. At the time of his death, he was editor of The Day newspaper.
Manne, Mordechai Zvi (1859-1886), Hebrew lyric poet and painter. Born in Radushkowitz, near Vilna, Lithuania. He received a traditional education from his father, a poor Melamed [teacher] and gravestone engraver. At the age of 13 he was sent to study at a yeshiva in Minsk (then part of the Russian Empire, now the capital of Belarus). He taught himself Russian and general studies. In 1876, Manne started to study painting at the art school of Vilna. In 1881, he was accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts at St. Petersburg, Russia. Manne was influenced by Russian and German classical poetry, which he used to translate.

His work is characterized by a profound sadness, and the love of nature, which he expressed equally beautifully with pen or brush. In his last days the love of Zion assumed a important place in his poetical writings. Manne was the first to introduce European metre into Hebrew poetry.

Manne contributed poems and articles to Ha-Meliz and Ha-Zefira under the pen name Ha-Metzayyer ("the painter"). In 1884 he designed the covers of Nahum Sokolow's "Ha-Asif" and S.P. Rabinowitz' "Kneset Yisrael". "Kol Kitvey Manne" a collection of Manne's poems, essays and letters was published posthumously in 1897. Some of his best poems are: "Massat Nafshi" ("The Burden of my Soul"), "Hashoshanah" ("The Lily"), "Halaylah" ("The Night"), "Atzev Anochi" ("I am grieved"), "Zikkaron Leyom Daled Shel Hol Hamoed Pesah" ("In Memory of the Fourth Intermediate Day of Passover"), and "Tikvah Laobed" ("Hope for the Worker"). His essays are about art of painting, painters, the art of poetry, and esthetics. Some of his poems were set to music.

His promising career was interrupted by his death from tuberculosis in 1886 when he was only 27 years of age.
Maimon, Salomon Ben Joshua (1753-1800), philosopher. His original name was Salomon Ben Joshua, but he changed it to Maimon in honour of Maimonides (the Rambam). He was born in Nieszwicz, Lithuania and learned Hebrew and Talmud from his father. Later he studied in the Yeshiva of Ivenets near Minsk. At the age of seven Maimon was able to study the Talmud by himself, at 11 he was married, and at the age of fourteen he became a father. In his autobiography he describes his life from the time of his marriage in Poland to the time he moved to Koenigsberg in East Prussia as "a series of miseries with want of all means for the promotion of culture." His aspiration for knowledge went beyond Jewish studies and he yearned for general education. By the age of 20 he had read physics and optics as well as historical books, he studied Jewish philosophical literature including the Kabbalah and wrote Givat Hamoreh, a commentary on Maimonides' More Nebuchim [Guide of the Perplexed].

In 1778 Maimon went to Koenigsberg (which became Kalingrad when the area was annexed to the Soviet Union in 1946) and then to Berlin. He had taught himself German. He was however rejected on account of a disagreement over his opinions of Maimonides. He wandered through Prussia for six months until Rabbi Hirsch Janower at Posen (now Poznan) was ready to take care and provide him for two years. Upon his return to Berlin, this time with recommendations, he was supported by Moses Mendelssohn, (on whose ideas the Haskalah, Jewish enlightenment, was founded), Lazarus Bendavid (a philosopher who was one of the first to advocate reforms in Jewish practice in order to stem conversions to Christianity) and physician Marcus Herz. He studied German philosophers, especially Leibnitz and Wollf. His articles were appreciated, but his arrogant behavior, his life style and radical ideas soon antagonized his protectors. He left Berlin, went to Holland, and then to Hamburg where, in order to improve his position, made an attempt to convert to Christianity. While doing so he declared to the clergyman that he still considered Judaism nearer to the truth than Christianity. This declaration denied him baptism.

He however acquired the means to enter a gymnasium in Altona near Hamburg in order to improve his knowledge of languages. After two years Maimon returned to Berlin and then to Breslau, where he was assisted by Ephraim Kuh and by the philosopher Garve, a friend of Mendelssohn. He translated Mendelssohn's Morgenstunden into Hebrew. In 1790, Maimon published his first book Versuch ueber die Transcendentalphilosophy, which attracted the attention of the greatest philosophers of that time, including Kant. In the preface of this work, dedicated to the king of Poland, Maimon pleaded in favor of his coreligionists. In 1791 he published Philosophisches Woerterbuch, a fragment of a dictionary of philosophical terms, and articles previously printed. In 1792 he edited his Kommentar zur More Newuchim des Maimonides and the treatise Ankuendigung und Aufforderung zu einer allgemeinen Revision der Wissenschaften. In 1794 he published Versuch einer neuen Logik, and in 1797, perhaps his most important work, Kritische Untersuchungen ueber den menschlichen Geis which secured for him a prominent position amongst the historians of philosophy. He criticized certain aspects of Kant’s thoughts. He also wrote notes and commentaries on Bacon and Aristotle, and two works in Hebrew Taalumoth Hochmah and Heshek Shlomoh which were not published.

In 1793 Maimon’s autobiography Salomon Maimons Leben was published. It had been edited by the German philologist Karl Philipp Moritz and was translated into several languages. In this he sets out his opinion of Kabbalah and his views of Judaism. He censures the rabbis for “burdening” the people with minute ceremonies but praises them for their high moral standards.Salomon

Miamon died in Nieder-Siegersdorf, Silesia, in 1800.
Scheinfeld Solomon Isaac (1860-1943), rabbi, Hebraist and author. Born in Scaudvil, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), he was ordained by Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Spektor in 1890. The following year Scheinfeld emigrated to the USA. At first he lived in Milwaukee, then almost a decade in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1902 he returned to Milwaukee to serve as rabbi at Beth Israel orthodox congregation until his death.

He expressed unorthodox ideas on the revision of the prayer book in his work Ha-Shilo'ah (1921). Other works by him are: Ziyunim be-Derekh ha-Hayyim ("Milestones on the Path of Life", 2 vols., 1922-28); five volumes of moral and ethical reflections on Judaism in his Ha-Adam ba-Maaleh ("The superior Man", 1931); Olam Ha-Sheker (1936), and Divrei Hakhamim (1941). Scheinfeld also wrote articles in the Hebrew encyclopedia, Ozar Yisrael.
Abraham Abele ben Abraham Solomon (1764-1836), Talmudist in Lithuania, known as Abele Posweller, after city of Poswol where he served as rabbi. He studied under Rabbi Solomon of Wilkomir and was considered one of the leading rabbis of his age. At the age of 38 he was nominated to be head of the Vilna Beth Din and served in this position for thirty years. His views were strictly traditional but had sympathies for the Haskala movement, giving his approval to the works of Isaac Baer Levinsohn who initiated the Haskala movement in Russia. He exercised a significant influence on the religious practices of Russian Jewry. His charity and kindness to other Jews was proverbial in Vilna. He attempted to raise money for the Jews of Eretz Israel whose financial situation was very difficult. Although he wrote no book of note, Posweller contributed his Talmudic responsa to the works of many of his contemporaries.
Took photographs of wooden synagogues in Eastern Europe, 1999.
Jaffe, Leib (1876–1948), Zionist leader and writer, born in Grodno (then part of the Russian Empire, now Hrodna, in Belarus). Jaffe studied in Germany, he participated in the First Zionist Congress and several subsequent Congresses and was one of the foremost Zionist propagandists in speeches and articles in both Russian and Yiddish. Jaffe vigorously opposed the Uganda Scheme. In 1906, he was elected to the Zionist central committee in Russia. For a time he edited the Zionist periodicals, "Dos Yidishe Folk" and "Haolam", in which he published articles on current and Zionist affairs. He published three collections of Jewish-Zionist literature in Russian and also two Russian anthologies of Hebrew poetry as well as a selection of world poetry on Jewish-national subjects. A talented poet in his own right, he published his first poem in 1892 in the Russian Jewish "Voskhod". His first collection of poems, "Gryadushchee" ("The Future") appeared in Grodno in 1902. The collection included some translations of Hebrew poetry. At the Eighth Zionist Congress of 1908, Jaffe was elected to the Zionist General Council and he directed the regional Zionist committee of Lithuania.

During the period of the Russian February Revolution (1917), he was at the center of Zionist propagandist and administrative work inside Russia. Later, after the consolidation of the Soviet regime, Jaffe returned to Lithuania, where he was elected president of the Zionist Organization and edited its newspaper, "Letste Nayes". In 1920 he went to Eretz Israel, where he was elected to the Va'ad ha-Tzirim (Zionist Commission). In 1921-1922 he was made editor of the "Haaretz" newspaper; in 1923 Jaffe joined the Keren Hayesod and in 1926, together with A. Hantke, became its co-director. Until his death he traveled widely in all countries of the Diaspora on public relations missions and established contacts with intellectual circles.

Jaffe also wrote poems in Yiddish (published in 1925) and also in Hebrew. A selection of his articles appeared in "Tekufot" (1948).

Jaffe was killed on March 11, 1948, when a mine planted by an Arab terrorist exploded in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency compound in Jerusalem.
Katzenellenbogen, Zvi Hirsch (Naphtali) (1796-1868), author and teacher. Lived in Vilna, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), where he became one of the early Maskilim. He became director of Hebrew studies in the governmental rabbinical school, despite the objection of some traditional orthodox circles. The school was founded in 1847 and he served there for 18 years until his retirement.He was followed by his son Haim. Katzenellenbogen was well liked amongst all sectors and age groups in the community. He wrote articles for two periodicals. At the age of 26 he wrote "Netivot Olam", a commentary on part of the Shulchan Aruch. At the same age he wrote poetry and a number of eulogies including one on Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin entitled "Nahal Dimah".
Lima, Mozes ben Isaac Judah (1605?-1658), rabbi and halachist. He studied at Krakow, Poland, where he became acquainted with many of the future leaders of Lithuanian Jewry. In 1637 he was appointed rabbi of Slonim (now in Belarus), and served as Av Beth Din of Vilna, Lithuania, from 1650. From 1655 until his death he was chief rabbi of Vilna. His spiritual associates included Rav Ephraim ben Jacob haKohen and Shabbtai Kohen. Lima's son Raphael published his written works in Krakow twelve years after his death. "Hilchat Mehokek" was a commentary on the Even Haezer part of the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish Law). This commentary was considered to be an outstanding work and had a great influence on Torah learning in future generations. Lima together with Samuel ben Uri Shraga wrote "Kunteres haAgunot" that deals with the conditions under which an agunah woman may remarry.
Szalit, Rahel nee Marcus (1896-1942), painter and etcher. Born in Ishgenty, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire). Most of her works depicted Eastern European Jewish life. After studying in Munich, Paris and London, she worked in Berlin until 1933. In a style which is based on vigorous, nervous lines and a freedom of expression she succeeded in effectively portraying the lives of the Jews in Lithuania and Poland. She drew inspiration from the work of Yiddish writers as well as from her own memories. Her pictures had a very original style. They showed the poverty of the Jews, their modesty, their patience in suffering, their often disreputable appearance and - in contrast – the ecstatic mysticism of their Hasidic fantasies.

The best of Rahel Szalit's folios were the sixteen lithographs to Mendele's Fishke der Krummer (1921). She also illustrated the Hebraische Melodien of Heine (1922), Buber's Geschichten des Rabbi Nachman and Kindergeschichten, Israel Zangwill's King of the Schnorrers and Shalom Aleichem's Menshen und Zenen, as well as some of the works of Dickens, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
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Juzintai

Lithuanian: Jūžintai; Yiddish: יוזינט (Yuzhint); Russian: Южинты (Yuzhinty); Polish: Jużynty

A small town in the Panevėžys County, north-eastern Lithuania.

 

21ST CENTURY

A group of Jewish descendants from a number of north-eastern Lithuanian shtetls in the Zarasai region where Jūžintai is located established the Litvak Portal on facebook. The group’s activities encompasses translating and sharing historical archival regional records. They have been able to collect information about their ancestors as far back as 1795 including death, birth and marriage certificates documenting their simchas (festivities).

The book Where Once We Walked: A Guide To The Jewish Communities Destroyed In The Holocaust by Gary Mokotoff (2002) includes the town of Jūžintai. This award-winning piece Where Once We Walked (WOWW) covers over 23’500 central and eastern European towns where Jews were living before the Holocaust.

The Levit clan, known as the “Yuzinter” (those who hailed from Yuzint or Jūžintai) in the town Dusetos not far from Jūžintai features in the Yoffe blog. This family owned the longest row of stores situated opposite the lake and they were said to be “very learned folk”. Before WWI the Dusetos children went to the local Russian folk school as well as attended the heder (Jewish religious school).

 

HISTORY

Juzintai only had about 70 families and of those a dozen Jewish families. The gentiles were peasants and the Jews shopkeepers and artisans. The numerous peasants of the region who came on Sundays to Juzintai for mass in the local church did their shopping in the Jewish owned shops. In the area surrounding there were many Jewish peasants and also some traders.

There were two yearly fairs in Juzintai which attracted people from all the region.

There was neither a synagogue nor Jewish public institutions in Juzintai. Prayers were held in the house of Rabbi Abreaham Hirsch Levit, a great Torah scholar. The ritual slaughterer from the small town of Kamajai came to Juzintai when necessary. The small children were taught by a melamed (teacher) and the older ones went to school in Rokiskis, the district town.

In spite of the work and trade relations between Jews and gentiles, the Christian peasants of Juzintai treated the Jews with hostility fanned perpetually by the local priest.

In one case when the law court ordered the return of a Jewish girl kidnapped by Christians, the priest, heading an enraged mob caused a near-pogrom in the nearby town of Dusetos; a Jew was killed and Jewish possessions looted and destroyed. At another occasion on a Jewish holiday when the Jews of the region went to pray in Juzintai the Christians burnt down their houses.

Before the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918) many of the local Jews emigrated to the USA and South Africa. After the war most of the young people identified themselves with Zionism. They underwent agricultural training and went to Eretz Israel.

In the census of 1923 there were 55 Jews in Juzintai.


THE HOLOCAUST

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

There is no clear evidence as to the fate of the Juzintai Jews after the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941), and the conquest of all Lithuania which took place within a few days. It is generally assumed that the Jews still remaining in Juzintai were taken to the district town of Rokiskis (30 km from Juzintai) and shared the fate of the local Jews. Survivors of the slaughter in Rokiskis were taken to the small town of Obeliai and there murdered on August 25, 1941.
 

POSTWAR

After the war memorial stones were erected on the sites of the mass graves in Rokiskis and Obeliai.

Vistytis

Also known as Vishtinitz

A small town in the Vilkaviskis ditrict, south-eastern Lithuania.

Vishtinitz is situated among wooded hills on the boards of a big lake on the polish border. Until the end of World War I this was the German-East Prussian frontier. During the Tsarist-Russian regime revolutionary books were smuggled into Russia by way of the lake.

Already in the 18th century Jews were settled in the town. At the beginning of the 20th century the town burnt down and was rebuilt with the help of donations by the German Emperor Wilhelm II who visited the town and the Tsar Nikolay II who heard about the emperor's contribution. The town burnt down again during World War I (1914-1918) when the Russian army retreating before the Germans put fire to it (1915). Of all community buildings only the synagogue remained standing; the local Jews fled the town and only few returned after the war. In 1921 only 40 Jewish families lived in Vishtinitz.

From the end of the 18th century there was a continuous line of officiating rabbis in the town. The last rabbi was Rabbi Zalman Sodalnitzky who perished with his community during the Holocaust.

The writer Leon Holandersky was born in Vishtinitz as well as the physician and public figure Dr. Mendel Sudarsky.

The Vishtinitz Jews made a living from small trade, artisanship and fishing. The preparation of bristles and before World War I furnished the main source of income but in independent Lithuania it lost its value and many Jews who did not find work locally emigrated to the USA.

Before World War II there were about 30 Jewish families in Vishtinitz.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 22, 1941, the first day of the German attack on Soviet Russia, the Germans took Vishtinitz. With the conquest German inhabitants of the town who had been expulsed to Germany during the Soviet regime returned to the town. Some of them joined the gangs of nationalistic Lithuanians and together they began to molest the Jews.

With German cooperation the Jewish men were separated from their families, taken to the fields outside the town, near the windmill and ordered to dig pits. A young man who refused to dig was beaten to death; on the same occasion the rabbi was severely harassed. On July 14, 1941 all the Jewish men were murdered and buried in those pits. The women and children were kept for a time, and on September 9, 1941 they were murdered too.

After the war the survivors of the community built a memorial on the site of the mass graves with the inscription Victims of Fascism.

Upyna

A small town in the district of Taurage, Lithuania.

Before World War I there were 30-40 Jewish families in the town. They had a prayer house and a line of rabbis officiating in it. The last rabbi of the community was Rabbi Yizhak Yaffe.

The Jews made a living from retail trade.

On the eve of World War II some tens of Jewish families lived in Upyna.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the USSR.

When the war between Germany and Russia broke out (June 22,1941), most of the Upyna Jews left the town and sought shelter with the peasants of the area. On June 23, 1941 the retreating Soviet troops set fire to Upyna and most of the houses went up in flames.

When the Germans entered the town, a group of organized nationalistic Lithuanians started harassing the Jews and put themselves at the service of the conquering army.

Edicts were published forbidding the population to shelter Jews, the people of the community who had been hiding, returned to the town. The Jewish men were ordered to register with the Lithuanians, were thereupon arrested and disappeared without a trace.

After a few days the Germans and their Lithuanian henchmen concentrated the rest of the Jews in a large granary, closed it and put a guard on it. The Lithuanian guardians tormented the imprisoned Jews. They were kept there for three days without water or food. Then they were brought in carts to the town of Raseiniai. There they were murdered and buried in a mass grave together with the Jews of Raseiniai and the environs.

Ukmerge

In Jewish sources: Vilkomir; in Lithuanian: Ukmerge.

District town in central Lithuania. The town is situated on the crossroads between Kovno (Kaunas) and Dvinsk (Daugavpils in Latvia), and between Vilna and Riga in Latvia, on the banks of the river Sventoji.

Vilkomir came into existence in the 13th century as a fortress guarding the roads. Many armies passed through it, many fights were fought in it and the town passed from hand to hand (Russian, Lithuanian, Swedish, German, Polish). In the first half of the 16th century Vilkomir received the rights of a town according to the "Magdeburg Constitution" and two weekly market-days and one yearly fair were instituted. After the third division of Poland (1795) the town came under Russian Tsarist rule.

Jews began to settle in Vilkomir at the end of the 16th century. They built a synagogue and were granted land for a cemetery. In 1766 there were 716 Jews in the town. In 1864 there were 4,561 Jews and they had two synagogues and 12 prayer-quorums (Minyanim). In the census of 1897 there were 7,287 Jews, 53% of the general population and in 1914 their number reached 10,000 people.

During World War I the Russian authorities expulsed the Jews from the town; they only allowed a Jewish army physician, Dr. Katzenelbogen, to stay. The physician "declined the honor" and left with all the other Jews. A number of them were exiled into Russia and others found a refuge in Vilna and its vicinity. Vilkomir was taken by the Germans and the Jews from its neighborhood congregated in it. In 1928 when the Germans left the town and the red army approached it, the Poles tried to conquer the region. The Jews organized their self-defense and sent a deputation to the Soviets begging them to take the town. In 1918 the Red Army entered the town and stayed in it for six months. Because of the pressure exerted by rebellious Lithuanian battalions the Bolsheviks left the town. The Jews having been disappointed with Soviet rule accepted Lithuanian sovereignty with equanimity, especially as the Lithuanians promised the Jews equal rights and improvement of their situation. But after a few days, when the Jews held a "people's assembly" in honor of the Balfour declaration a riot broke out. Lithuanian hooligans shot at the Jews to kill, beat and injured scores of them.

In independent Lithuania (1918-1940), when civil and national rights were given to the Jews, economic and public life recovered. Jews began returning to Vilkomir where they were received with open arms by the local Jews and by the "Joint" which opened an office in the town. Permission was given to the board of the community to issue temporary identity cards to the refugees. At this time hundreds of Vilkomir Jews volunteered for service in the Lithuanian army. In the municipal elections the Jews had a majority and Ben Zion Goldberg was elected mayor. Many Jews worked in the municipal institutions, and spoke the Lithuanian language. During the elections for the board of the community there was a hard struggle between the Zionist and their opponents; in spite of this the community succeeded in restoring the religious educational and charitable institutions. In 1921 there were 7,000 Jews in Vilkomir, in 1935 there were 8,000.

There were 12 prayer-houses in the town, among them the great synagogue from the 17th century and the "shtibel" of the Habad Hassidim.

The office of rabbi of Vilkomir was one of the most important in the country. The town became famous thanks to its outstanding scholars. Hundreds of scholars graduated from its "yeshivoth". The last rabbi was Joseph Susmanovitch ("the Jerusalemite") and the last rabbi from "across the river", Jacob Reznik. Both perished in the Holocaust.

Vilkomir was the citadel of orthodox Jewry and served as spiritual and cultural centre for hundreds of years. The town was known for its zealots; in 1860'S, there was a prolonged quarrel between the "mitnagdim" and the "hassidim"; the hassidim wanted a hassidic rabbi next to the "mitnaged" rabbi in the religious court. A bitter controversy raged against the movement of enlightment ("haskala") and its followers, especially in the days of rabbi Leib Lilienblum.

Prior to World War I there was a large yeshiva in the town in addition to a "Talmud Torah" and several "hadarim". At the end of the 19th century government schools were opened where the teaching language was Russian. There was a Jewish school, a municipal school, a preparatory school and later a high school in Vilkomir. There was no Jewish quota in any school.

During the German occupation in World War I the Yiddishists opened a large library, ran a dramatic circle, an orchestra and a choir. All this strengthened the influence of the "Bund" and of the Yiddish movement in the town and vicinity.

Yeshiva in the old prayer house, two high schools (Yiddish and Hebrew) which merged in 1934 into one Hebrew gymnasium, an elementary school "Yavne", a "Tarbut" school and kindergarten and two libraries. The yeshiva and high schools served also the neighboring towns.

The community had an old age home, and an orphanage. The orphanage was situated in a modern building adjoining a movie house the income of which was donated for the upkeep of the orphanage. The community had a public pharmacy, its revenue was used for charitable purposes; the Jewish poor received there medicines without payment. Wood for fuel was distributed to the needy.

In the past the Vilkomir Jews worked as woodcutters and dealers in wood. They also traded in wheat and flax which they transported on rafts on the river. They became more involved in trade when they came in contact with the many Jewish merchants passing through the town on their way to the big trade centers (Vilna, Petersburg, Warsaw), and they fulfilled a central function in the export of wood and flax to Germany.

Jewish merchants from Vilkomir participated regularly at the stock exchanges of Koenigsberg, Danzig and Stettin. There were Jewish owners of flour mills (in the 19th century there was a Jewish union of flour millers in the town). Tanneries, brick kilns and the manufacture of ceramics were staffed by Jewish specialized workers. The branches of textiles, foodstuffs and building materials were almost entirely in Jewish hands.

Before World War I there were about 900 Jewish farmers in Vilkomir and its vicinity. The Jews in the outlying settlements were also craftsmen and innkeepers. In the town itself, Jews kept the inn for travelers. Among the Jewish craftsmen were masons who among other work built the roofs of the churches, smiths and tinsmiths; Jewish tailors sewed the clothes for the free market and for the military garrison in the town. Most of the Jewish carterers learnt to drive in the 1920's when the first Lorries were used in the transport business. Till the 1920ies there was no running water in the town and Jewish drawers of water brought water from the river and the wells to the houses.

Sawmills, two flourmills, two wine distilleries, factories producing leather, ceramic tiles for stoves, cardboard, soft drinks, bricks, arms, and six tanneries were owned by Jews. The Jewish bank was established in 1920, in 1921 it had 593 members. There were also private banks.

"Hashomer Hatzair", "Gordonia", "Betar" and the sport organizations "Maccabi, "Hapoel" and "Jak" were active in the town.

In 1935 there were 8,000 Jews in Vilkomir.

The Holocaust Period
After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Jewish public life came to a standstill, the nationalization of public assets put a heavy burden on the economy; but the Jews integrated in the bureaucracy of the government. Three days after the German attack on Russia (June 22, 1941) the Germans conquered Vilkomir. The town was full of Jewish refugees from western Lithuania.

Immediately after the conquest, local Lithuanians broke into Jewish houses, looted them, harassed the Jews and murdered a number of them. The Jews were accused of having caused the death of two German soldiers who were killed by stray bullets; the leaders and notables of the community were arrested as hostages; German soldiers expelled doctors and nurses from the Jewish hospital and arrested lawyers and public figures. All were taken to the prison yard and tortured brutally, finally they were all murdered in the Russian orthodox cemetery. The Lithuanian head of the secret police and citizens of the town, all known to the Jews took part in the torturing and murder.

Under German protection the same gang of Lithuanians arrested about 200 Jews on suspicion of collaboration with the communists. After torturing them the Lithuanians took them to the Pivona forest nearby and murdered them there on July 4, 1941. In the middle of July the Lithuanian arrested 12 Jewish girls, raped and murdered them.

At the beginning of august 1941 a ghetto was closed off in the poor section of Vilkomir; the Germans ordered the Jews to assemble there within 12 hours. The ghetto was surrounded by a guard of armed Lithuanians. The Jews were limited in their movements in the town and forbidden to buy in shops. Every day the Germans took the young men for forced labor, the older men were sent to degrading chores in the streets.

During the month of August the Germans took groups of Jewish young men and girls from their work to the Pivona forest, murdered them and buried them in trenches next to the bricks factory. At the same time, in the same place Jewish young people from 11 nearby small towns were murdered too.

On September 5, 1941 6,437 men, women and children, the Jews of Vilkomir and its vicinity were murdered in the Pivona forest.

Only the old and sick, the women and children were left in the ghetto. On September 26, 1941 German soldiers and Lithuanian police men surrounded the ghetto, and all its inhabitants were taken to the Pivona forest. They were mowed down by machine guns and their bodies covered with earth where they had fallen. Jews who hid were found and murdered too.

In 1950 survivors from the Vilkomir community and its vicinity erected a memorial to the victims on the killing fields.

Moletai

In Jewish sources: Maliat

A small town in the Utena district, Eastern Lithuania.

Moletai is situated 70 km north of Vilna in a mountainous region surrounded by lakes. Historical sources mention Moletai for the first time in 1387, when the town was ceded as a gift to the bishop of Vilna; it belonged to the bishops of Vilna until the partition of Poland at the end of the 18th century. During the 19th century the town grew and developed and in 1866 it became for a time a district town.

There is no clear evidence when Jews settled in Moletai; they lived there in the 18th century and in a manuscript from 1765, 170 Jews are mentioned as paying head tax. In 1847 there were 1,006 Jews in the town and in 1894 – 1,948 –  more than 80% of the total population. In 1906 most of the town burnt down but was rebuilt within a few years. In 1914 about 500 Jewish families lived in Moletai. During World War I, at the end of July 1915, on four hour notice, the Jews were expelled from Moletai and sent as prisoners to Russia. A number of Jews, in order to evade the expulsion fled south and reached Vilna and its environs. After the war the Jews returned to Moletai; they rebuilt the community institutions with the help of former members of the community living in the U.S.A. and in South Africa.

There were four prayer houses, a "Talmud Torah", a "Heder" and an elementary school founded in 1910 in Moletai. In the period of Lithuania's independence, between the two World Wars, there existed a Hebrew school of the "Tarbut" network and also a Yiddish school. There was a library and a drama circle which produced serious plays for an enthusiastic audience. The artist, Naftali Melamed, was the central figure in the drama circle. The young people studied at high schools in the big town.

The organization "Gemilut Hassadim" extended loans to its needy members and "Bikkur Holim" took care of needy sick people and helped their families.

For 35 years Shalnik officiated as "Hazzan" and religious slaughterer of the community. He was known for his knowledge in "Halacha" (Jewish rules and tradition). The last officiating rabbi in Moletai was Rabbi Neta Biletzky.

The Jews of Moletai made a living from small trade, mainly on the two weekly market days, and on the two yearly fairs. The Jewish shops were in the center of the town.

Prior to World War I (1914-1918), Vilna was the chief market center and the source of employment for the Moletai Jews. After Vilna was separated from Lithuania and came under Polish rule, the Moletai Jews still secretly kept up their connection with Vilna.

In independent Lithuania between the two World Wars Kovno was the chief market for produce from Moletai. Among the Jews there were peddlers, small traders, shopkeepers, tailors, shoe makers, makers of felt shoes, smiths and carters. An important source of income were the stockings knitted by many Jewish women on their knitting machines in their homes; the raw materials were brought form Kovno where the finished goods were marketed. There was a Jewish lawyer and a Jewish dentist in Moletai.

As the lakes in the region were rich in fish, the trade in fish developed. Jewish carters brought lorries and transported the fresh fish to Kovno. Only two rich Jews lived in Moletai; their houses, built of stone were in the main street.

In 1929 there were 332 members in the Jewish bank. Among its customers were Jewish peddlers and artisans.

When the Lithuanian began trading themselves, establishing cooperatives, they harmed Jewish trade. The economic situation of the Moletai Jews worsened and young people started leaving the town. During the years 1927-1932, in addition to single young people, about 30 Jewish families left Moletai. At first they went to Kovno and later emigrated overseas. During the same period the Zionists went to Eretz Israel.

Different Zionist movements were active in Moletai; Jews also joined in underground Communist activities. Because of Communist activities, many of the local young people, Jews among them, were imprisoned for years in the prisons of Kovno.

Prior to World War II there were about 350 Jewish families in Moletai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 26, 1941, five days after the German attack on Soviet Russia, the Germans entered Moletai. Nationalistic Lithuanians organized as German auxiliaries and took over the town under the auspices of the German command in the district town of Utena. From time to time a member of the Gestapo came from Utena in order to co-ordinate the activities of the nationalistic Lithuanians. Immediately persecution of the Jews began; robbery, looting and murder became the order of the day. The Lithuanian physician Jonuskis and the lady physician Apeikite stood up against the persecution of the Jews but to no avail. The atrocities worsened from day to day; every Jew suspected of relations with the Soviet regime was shot. The Lithuanian population falsely accused their Jewish neighbors of such relations; during the first week of the German conquest dozens of Jews were shot and buried in the swamps about 500 meters from the mansion house.

On August 26 all the remaining Jews were assembled and imprisoned in the prayer house without food or water. On August 29, 1941 the Jews were taken out of the town, to the side of the Moletai-Vilna road; there they were murdered and buried in a mass grave. Most of the Jews who had escaped and hidden in the environs were discovered within a few weeks and murdered.
 

At the end of the war the few surviving Jews returned to Moletai; among them were former soldiers of the Red Army and war invalids. They were joined by survivors of the Ghetto and the death camps and a few public activists who had been expelled during the time of Soviet rule before the war. For years the authorities refused to erect a memorial on the site of the mass graves of the Jewish victims of the Nazis; until 1954 the Jews fenced in the site on their own initiative and paid for by themselves. After a time the authorities relented and erected a memorial with a gravestone, on which were engraved, in Lithuanian and Russian: "Soviet people were murdered here". In 1991 the inscription was changed and in Lithuanian and Yiddish it was stated that the victims were Jewish.

Kapciamiestis

Yiddish: Kopcheve, Kopchava; Polish: Kopciowo; Russian: Koptsiovo

A town in Lithuania

Kapciamiestis is located where the Baltoji Ancia and Nieda Rivers meet. Until the end of World War I Kapciamiestis was known as Kopciowo and located in the Suwalki Province of the Russian Empire. During the interwar period it was part of Lithuania. From 1944 until 1991 it was part of the Soviet Union. Since 1991 Kapciamiestis has been part of independent Lithuania.

The Jewish cemetery began to be restored at the beginning of the 21st century as part of a project initiated by the descendants of former residents of Kapciamiestis. Information about the cemetery and the tombstones was published in 2006 in a book about the town. In 2015 a new fence was constructed around the Jewish cemetery, where a number of tombstones have remained standing.

The local museum in Kapciamiestis includes information about the history of the town's Jewish community.

HISTORY

The Jews of Kapciamiestis worked mostly as traders and craftsmen, though three families worked as farmers. Several Jews traded in lumber, while others owned local factories, including one that produced iron products.

Between the two World Wars, when Kapciamiestis was part of independent Lithuania, about 50 Jewish families lived in the town, which became widely known for its scholars and intellectuals. Children were taught Hebrew in cheder (religious elementary school); there was also a Hebrew public school with a library and drama circle.

Zionism became popular in Kapciamiestis during the interwar period. The most popular Zionist youth movement was HeHalutz.

Nearly 200 Jews lived in Kapciamiestis on the eve of World War II. The community's last rabbi was Menachem Mendel Sher.

Among the prominent figures from Kapciamiestis was the historian Rabbi Elhana (Edward) Kalman (1891-1939).

THE HOLOCAUST

After the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, Lithuania came under Soviet rule; at the end of the summer of 1940 it was annexed by the Soviet Union. The Germans occupied Kapciamiestis on June 22, 1941, after the alliance between the Soviet Union and the Germans was broken. During the occupation, a small number of Jews managed to escape to the Soviet Union. Those who remained soon fell victim to nationalist Lithuanians who, upon taking control of the town, looted Jewish property, drove the local Jews into forced labor, and killed many of the town's Jewish residents.

On September 15, 1941 the Jews of Kapciamiestis were sent to the town of Lazdijai, where a ghetto had been established. They were murdered on November 3, 1941 together with the Jews of Lazdijai and the surrounding towns.

POSTWAR

After the war, a monument was erected on the mass grave in Lazdijai. Jewish life was not revived in Kapciamiestis.

Pašvitinys

Yiddish: פּאָשוועטין, Poshvetyn; Russian: Пошвитынь, Poshvityn

A small town in Siauliai County, Lithuania

 

HISTORY
In 1897 the Jewish population of Pasvitinys was 435 Jews (59% of the total population).

The town burned down and needed to be rebuilt in 1902. Nonetheless, during the early 19th century most of the town’s Jews were economically stable. Most worked as small traders during the weekly market days and the four yearly fairs; other worked as peddlers and artisans. The local inn and the flour mill were both owned by Jews. During the interwar period most of Pasvitinys’ Jews worked as small traders, and were helped economically by their relatives living abroad.

Community institutions included a prayer house. The last rabbi to serve the community was Rabbi Nachman Davidman.

Before World War I (1914-1918) there were 120 Jewish families living in Pasvitinys. After the war their number decreased, as many immigrated, mostly to South Africa. Just before World War II (1939-1945) there were about 20 Jewish families living in Pasvitinys.
 

THE HOLOCAUST

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939), Lithuania came under Soviet rule. At the end of the summer of 1940 it was annexed by the Soviet Union.

A few days after the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) the Germans occupied Pasvitinys. Lithuanian nationals, led by the local school principal, were put in charge of the town. They then proceeded to enter Jewish homes by force and abuse the Jews. Anyone who resisted was shot on the spot.

The town’s Jews were eventually expelled from their homes and concentrated in a farmhouse. From there they were taken for forced labor, working in agriculture.

In September 1941 the Jews of Pasvitinys were taken by armed Lithuanians to the town of Zagare. On October 2, 1941 they were killed together with the Jews of Zagare.

 

POSTWAR

The Jewish community was not renewed after the war.

Liudvinava

A small town in the district of Mariampole, south-western Lithuania.

Liudvinava is situated 9 kms east of Mariampole.

Prior to World War II there were 20 Jewish families, among a general population of about 1,000 persons.

The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet Rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 22, 1941 the Germans attacked the Soviet Union and in a few days all of Lithuania was occupied.

The Jews of Ludvinava were arrested and taken to the Ghetto in the district town of Mariampole. There their fate was like the fate of the Jews of Mariampole, they were murdered by the Germans and their Lithuanian henchmen and buried in a mass grave on the site of the killing.

Griskabudis

A small town in the district of Sakiai, south-western Lithuania.

Before World War I there were about 30 families in Griskabudis; there were Jews in neighboring settlements in Paluobiai, there were 10 Jews in Sutkai and 10 Jews in Pusvieskelis. After World War I there were no Jews in those places.

Among the communal institutions were a prayer house, heder (religious school) and a bath house. In 1935 a fire broke out and burnt down 22 Jewish houses and the prayer house.

The Jews found a living in trade on the 24 yearly market days. During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) the Jewish traders were ousted and many emigrated.

In 1941 there were only eight Jewish families in Griskabudis


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

A short time after the German attack on Russia, the German army conquered the region.

All the Jews from Griskabudis were taken to the ghetto in Sakiai and on Shabbat, September 13, 1941 they were murdere together with the inhabitants of the ghetto - the rest of the Jews of Sakiai and its environs and buried in a mass grave.

In the same killing fields about 4,000 Jews are buried. After the war a memorial was erected on the site.

Laukuva

A small town in the Taurage district in western Lithuania.

Laukuva is situated on the highway between Kovno and Memel. Tombstones in the Jewish cemetery testify to Jewish presence in Laukuva already at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1897 there were 418 Jews in the town, nearly 60 % of the general population. The community had a prayer house, a Talmud torah and the usual charitable institutions. Between the two world wars there existed a Hebrew school of the tarbuth network. Tha last officiating rabbi in Laukava was Rabbi Chaim Zelig Kaplanski.

Because of the highway passing through the town there was lively trade going on; great wholesale trading houses were in Jewish hands. Most of the local Jews made a living from trade and only a few were artisans.

There were branches of the Zionist organizations Hamizrahi and Hechalutz and of the youth movement Betar in Laukuva; a number of Jews went to Eretz Israel; although at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th many local Jews left for the USA and South Africa.

Prior to World War II there were about 450 Jews in Laukuva.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) the Laukuva Jews fled to the nearby villages. On June 24, when the Germans entered the town, the Jews were ordered to return to their houses which during their absence had been looted by the local Lithuanians and four houses had been burnt to the ground. Shortly after their return the Jews were ordered to wear a yellow Magen David on their clothes and they were taken daily for forced humiliating labor. German soldiers molested the Jews; they cut off the aged Rabbi Kaplanski's beard.

On June 29 armed German soldiers with the help of local nationalistic Lithuanians collected all the Jewish men up from the age of 15 in the market place. All their valuables were taken from them; they were put on lorries and driven in the direction of the small town of Sveksna.

A week later, about 70 more Jewish men from the town and the villages were collected and taken to the work nearby camp of Heidkrug. There they worked on diggings and other hard labors under difficult climatic conditions and with little food.

Only the Jewish women, children and one man were left in Laukuva. They were forbidden to communicate with the peasants and to buy food from them; they were ordered to deliver all the holy scriptures for burning but succeeded in hiding some of them. Their valuables were looted by Lithuanians and German soldiers during the frequent raids made into their homes. The men's clothing and working tools were also taken, ostensibly to be given to the men who had been taken from the town. The looters were local Lithuanians, well known to the Jews.

On July 8, the Jewish women and children were taken from their homes and put into the prayer-house, a dilapidated building with a leaking ceiling. There they spent four days, overcrowded, without food or water. From there they were taken to the camp of Giruliai near Tels where thousands of women and children from the small regional Jewish communities were concentrated. On August 30, 1941 the women, old people and children were murdered. The young women and girls were transferred to the Tels ghetto and murdered there when the ghetto was liquidated on December 24, 1941. A number of women who succeeded in escaping survived the war.

Lithuanian peasants informed the Jewish men on forced labor in Heidkrug of the fate of the women and children. The men themselves were taken to the Auschwitz camp at the end of July 19, 1943. There many of them were murdered; in September the survivors were taken to the Warsaw ghetto to clean up its ruins. Only four men from Laukuva were alive when the US army liberated the region at the end of April 1945.

Kretinga

Yiddish: קרעטינגע, Kretinge; Russian: Кретинген, Kretingen; 

A city in Lithuania

 

21ST CENTURY

The Jewish cemetery has remained partially preserved. A memorial is located in the Kveciai forest near Kretinga at the location of the mass shooting that took place there.



HISTORY

Jews settled in Kretinga during the first half of the 17th century, when the city became a trade center and received the Magdeburg Privileges, which entitled it to self-rule.

The community grew steadily, and the census of 1847 indicates that by then the Jewish population had reached 1,738. As Kretinga’s economy declined, however, this number decreased, and at the end of the 19th century there were 1,200 Jews in Kretinga (35% of the general population).

The local Jewish community had a synagogue, a prayer house, and a kloyz (private house of study); the three buildings burned down in 1889 when a fire raged through the town and were subsequently rebuilt. There were also a number of charitable organizations. Children studied at a traditional cheder.

Most Jews worked in trade, and traded with markets across the border until the outbreak of World War I (1914-1918). Later, during the interwar period when Lithuania was independent, there were fewer markets, but the Jews were still able to make a living from workshops, where local Jews produced amber jewelry and souvenirs for tourists and summer visitors to the neighboring summer resort town of Palanga.

Community institutions during the interwar period included a Tarbut Hebrew school and a private library. In 1932 the Jewish bank had 233 members.

Zionist activities in Kretinga flourished between the two World Wars. Most of the local Jews were Zionists and supported raising funds for Palestine. Zionist youth movements became centers of social and cultural activities in the community.

In 1921 there were about 1,000 Jews living in Kretinga. On the eve of World War II (1939-1945) there were about 800 Jews in Kretinga. The last rabbi to officiate in Kretinga was Rabbi Benjamin Persky.

Notable figures from Kretinga include the merchant and colonel in the Polish Army, Berek Joselewicz (Dow Baer Joselewicz, 1764-1809).


THE HOLOCAUST

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939), Lithuania came under Soviet rule and was annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of the summer of 1940. In September 1939 the Jewish community of Kretinga absorbed Jewish refugees from regions occupied by the Nazis; as a result, the number of Jews living in Kretinga rose to 1,000.

The Germans occupied the city on the first day of their attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941). Kretinga was inside the 15.5-mile (25 km) belt along the Lithuanian border where the Germans determined that the Jews would be immediately killed. Upon entering the city, the Germans appointed nationalist Lithuanians in key positions in Kretinga and the surrounding area, headed by a Lithuanian who escaped when the Soviets took over Lithuania and who served in the Gestapo.

On the first day that the Germans took control of Kretinga, the Jewish men were ordered to assemble in the marketplace, where they were subject to physical violence and abuse until the evening. That night, they were imprisoned in the synagogue. After four days, 180 men were taken from the synagogue and were joined by another 30 men who were found during home searches. The group was driven to a farm near Palanga, where they were shot by Germans and Lithuanian policemen into trenches that they had been forced to dig themselves.

After the men were killed, the women and children were taken to the same farm. 63 Jews were taken from the farm on June 28 and killed, on the pretext that the Jews had started a fire in the synagogue, which then spread and burned several houses. After a number of days, another 15 Jews were taken and shot; their families were subsequently killed in the middle of August. Meanwhile, about 20 Jews from Kretinga and the surrounding area were being held in the local prison, where they were subject to abuse by the Lithuanian wardens.

Another mass killing took place in the middle of July, 1941 when 120 Jewish men were shot in the Jewish cemetery by German soldiers. Ultimately, during the summer of 1941, the Germans and Lithuanians killed approximately 1,050 Jewish men, women, and children in Kretinga and the surrounding area.

The Jewish community of Kretinga was liquidated at the beginning of September 1941. The women, children, and elderly people remaining at the farm were killed by drunken Lithuanian policemen armed with bayonets, knives, and iron bars. The last people to remain alive were shot. The Gestapo men photographed the massacre.

 

POSTWAR

The Jewish community was not renewed after the war.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, a number of trials took place against some of those who carried out the killing of Kretinga’s Jews.

A small memorial stone was erected in the Jewish cemetery in the 1990s, in memory of the Jews who were killed there.

Vaskiai

In Jewish sources: Vashki

A small town in the Birzai district, northern Lithuania.

Before World War I there were about 110 Jewish families in Vashki. They were expulsed from there during the war; after the war they returned to the town. There was a prayer-house and a Yavne school in Vashki. Among the local rabbis, Rabbi Abraham Hofenberg was well known; he officiated at the beginning of the twentieth century and his disciples became rabbis in Eretz Israel and the USA. The last rabbi was Rabbi Zvi Yacob Yankilov who perished with his community during the holocaust.

Before World War I the Jews made a living from commerce mainly flax which they exported to England. There were also Jewish artisans. In independent Lithuania between the two world wars the trade in flax declined because of the Soviet competition in the English market. The living of Jewish artisans was harmed by the establishment of Lithuanian cooperatives. A number of Jewish families emigrated to South Africa and the USA.

Prior to World War II there were about 80 Jewish families in Vashki.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Immediately at the beginning of the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), even before the Germans reached Vashki, bands of armed nationalistic Lithuanians organized seeing it as a national mission to kill Jews. They arrested Jews on suspicion of Soviet leanings and shot them. 27 Jews were murdered in the Jewish cemetery and buried there in a mass grave.

On August 26, 1941 all the members of the Vashki Jewish community were taken to Pasvalys where they were murdered together with the local Jews.


After the war a memorial was erected on the site of the mass grave in Pasvalys.

Balninkai

A small town in the district of Ukmerge (Vilkomir), eastern Lithuania.

Balninkai, an estate which became a village and developed into a small town is situated on the banks of a river near lakes rich in fish. The town was devastated during World War I and later rebuilt. During the period of Lithuania's independence between the two world wars there were 50 Jewish families in Balninkai.

The children studied in a heder (religious school) and a few continued their studies in a Hebrew or Yiddish gymnasium in the district town of Vilkomir.

The Jews made a living from small farmyards, from trade with peasants, from peddling and fishery in the nearby lakes. In spite of this many families lived in abject poverty.

In 1941 there were 230 Jews in Balninkai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

A short time after the German attack on the USSR (June 22, 1941) the German army entered Balninkai. Immediately after the Russian retreat, Lithuanian gangs began molesting the local Jews. They burst into a Jewish house, murdered the six members of the family after having tormented them.

A short time after the conquest all the local Jews were sent to the nearby town of Z'elva. On September 5, 1941 they were taken to the forest of Pivonija near the town of Vilkomir. There the Jews of Balninkai together with those of Z'elva were shot to death.

Vilkaviskis,

Vilkovishk; Vilkoviskis

A district town in south-western Lithuania.

Vilkovishk is situated about 15 km from the German border (east-Prussia) on the highway from Kovno to Koenigsberg (since 1945 Kaliningrad). The town was founded at the beginning of the 15th century, received the rights of a town the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom in the middle of the 16th century, came under Prussian sovereignty when Poland was divided at the end of the 18th century, was included in the Warsaw principality at the beginning of the 19th century and was under Tzarist Russian rule in 1815 (after the Congress of Vienna). At the time of Napoleon’s war against Russia, in 1812, his troops were stationed in the region and his headquarters were in Vilkovishk for a time.

The Jewish settlement in Vilkovishk was one of the first in Lithuania; Jews from Prussia settled there already at the beginning of the 17th century. The wife of King Zygmunt August donated the wood for the building of the synagogue.

In the 19th century most of the town's population was Jewish, in the census of 1856 there were 4,417 Jews as against 834 Christians. Before World War I there were 850 Jewish families in the town. During the war, at the time of the German conquest the Jew Bendet Rabinovitch served as mayor of the town.

Before World War I the children of the town studied in hadarim and later in local yeshivot or in nearby towns. In independent Lithuania there was a small yeshiva in Vilkovishk, a tarbuth Hebrew elementary school, a Yiddish school, a trade-school; from 1919 there was a Hebrew science gymnasium in the town, one of the first in Lithuania and it also served the children of nearby settlements. The town had two libraries, a Hebrew and general one and a Yiddish one. The town was known as a center of learning.

The pride of the community was its old synagogue, the building of which had begun early in the 16th century; in it stood the holy tabernacle, beautiful and a work of art. There were also a prayer-house for the workers with pigs' bristles. There was a line of rabbis, well-known for their knowledge of holy scripture.

The public institutions of the community which were destroyed during World War I were restored and enlarged during the period of Lithuania's independence. They were the usual charity institutions including a clinic. In 1921 there were more than 3,000 Jews in Vilkovishk.

In the past the Vilkovishk Jews made a living from trade and artisanship; before World War I the trade in wood, agricultural products and the export to Germany were in Jewish hands. Many Jews worked in the manufacture of brushes from pig's bristles, others were farmers and traders in fruit and vegetables in the town and its vicinity.

Due to the influence of Bund activists the workers were organized in a trade union (the brush makers) and even brought out a leaflet Der Wecker (the rouser). They were among the first industrial workers who fought for their rights. Already in 1837-1839 there were Jewish workers strikes under Bund leadership.

The Jewish poor barely made a living from artisanship and small trade, because of economic difficulties there were waves of emigration to American countries and South Africa at different periods.

Public life in Vilkovishk was mainly influenced by Zionism and the workers organizations. Poalei Zion and the Bund had a clear majority in elections. Between the two world wars most of the young people were in Zionist youth movements and in the sport organizations Maccabi and Hapoel.

In 1939 there were 3,609 Jews living in Vilkovishk, 45% of the general population.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Already on the first day of the German attack on Russia (June 22, 1941) Vilkovishk was taken by the Germans. Jews who tried to escape from the town seeing the roads barred by the Germans, returned to find their houses burnt down. Most of the Jewish houses burnt down during the bombings; the Jews were promptly accused of setting fire to the town.

Vilkovishk was situated in the 25 km belt from the German border in which the Jews and communists were slated for immediate extermination, according to the German decision. The head of the gestapo in Tilsit was responsible for the implementation of it. In the mean time the local Lithuanians harassed the Jews and led the Germans to their houses for looting. The Jewish men were ordered to gather in the market square and from there were taken for forced labor in the town and its vicinity. After a week they were forced to wear the yellow patch and forbidden to use the sidewalks. Many Jews were arrested on suspicion of communism.

At the beginning of July 1941 all the Jewish men were taken to the seminary for priests near the town. There they were exposed to the brutalities of the Lithuanian policemen and three Jews were murdered by them. After a week the place was designated a ghetto, a Judenrat was appointed; the men were taken from there for degrading forced work while the Lithuanian guards molested them on the way.

On July 27 Bohme, the head of the gestapo in Tilsit arrived in the town accompanied by German soldiers and Lithuanian auxiliaries. The Jews were ordered to dig trenches in the yard of the training barracks ostensibly for fuel storage. On the morrow, July 28, they were again taken for forced labor in groups but shot and murdered in the trenches they had dug themselves. The German Schubert who was responsible for the fuel storage in the town managed to postpone the murder of scores of Jews who worked with him.

At the beginning of August the women and children were taken to the barracks. They saw the mass graves of the men but were forbidden to approach them. On the Fast of Gedaliah, September 24, 1941 the women and children were murdered too and interred in a mass grave next to the one of the men.

About 200 Jews fled with the help of a corrupted Lithuanian guard; some Lithuanians, inhabitants of the town saved a number of women and children at the risk of their own lives.


After the war the mass graves were found neglected, with cows grazing there. The survivors of the community turned to the authorities, fenced the graves and erected a memorial stone.

 

 

Debeikiai

A small town in the Utena district, eastern Lithuania.

Tombstones in the cemetery of nearby Anyksciai testify to Jewish settlement in Debeikiai from the 17th century.

During World War I the Jews of the town were exiled into Russia. Most of them returned after the war and in 1921 there were 120 families in the Jewish community of Debeikiai.

In Debeikiai there were mitnagdim and a stibel (place for communal prayer) of the chabad hassidim. The relations between the mitnagdim and hassidim were cordial and they had one rabbi between them; he held prayers for two weeks in the study-hall and for one week in the stibel. Rabbi Eliezer Soloveitchik officiated for 50 years as rabbi of Debeikiai.

Mitnagdim and hassidim studied mishna and talmud together. The town was well-known for its ba'alei-tfilla (leaders of prayer) and its cantors; during the high holidays they served as cantors in big towns.

During the period of Lithuanian independence between the two world wars there were a library, a heder (religious school) and a tarbut (culture) school in the town, and many youngsters studied in the yeshivot in the neighborhood of the town.

The Jews of Debeikiai made a living from shop keeping and artisanship. Among the Jews were also peasants, traders in flax, pigs' bristles and eggs. Others dealt in goods for the local estates and in selling their produce.

After World War I when Vilna was separated from Lithuania, the town was cut off from its main markets and its economic situation worsened. In addition to this, in independent Lithuania the Lithuanian merchants ousted the Jews from their businesses and many Jews left the town for other places. Many Jews emigrated to England, the USA and South Africa. In 1939 there were 65 Jewish families in Debeikiai.

The Tseirei Zion branch in Debeikiai had 30 members. The young people went to hachshara (farm training) and the hehalutz (training young people for settlement of the Land of Israel) and a number of them emigrated to Eretz israel.

In 1941 there were 10 Jewish families in Debeikiai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

At the time of the German attack on Russia (September 1, 1941) the local Lithuanians took over the town and immediately arrested all the Jewish men. But they were liberated by the Russian soldiers still in the vicinity. The Jews fled into the town of Vyzuonis; three families succeeded in escaping into Soviet Russia; the other Jews were returned to Debeikiai when the Germans conquered the region.

The Lithuanians imprisoned the returned Jews in the local bath house and threw a hand grenade into it. A number of Jews were killed on the spot. The German commanding officer intervened, stopped the killings and ordered the Lithuanians to await the decision of the central government of the conquerors.

According to that decision all the Debeikiai Jews were taken to the district town of Utena, and on August 29, 1941 were murdered on the orders of the German conquerors.

Klaipeda

In German: Memel.  The Jews adopted the German name Memel, former Memelburg.

A port on the Baltic sea where the Dange river flows into the Kury bay, western Lithuania.

The city was founded in the middle of the 13th century by the Teutonic knights and was part of Prussia. From its beginnings until the 15th century it was frequently attacked by its neighbors the Poles and the Lithuanians. In the first half of the 17th century the city was under Swedish rule for a short period. Twice it was occupied by the Russians in 1757 during the seven year war and in 1813 during Napoleon's retreat from Russia.

After World War I, Memel was separated from Germany and in 1919 placed under a French mandate from the League of Nations. A Lithuanian uprising in 1923 forced the French to leave. In 1924 "Status Memel" was approved according to which the city was annexed to Lithuania and recognized as the capital of an autonomous region.

Jews were residents of Memel as early as the 15th century and the city archives contain documents of "Jew-taxes". The community was dissolved in 1567 when the Jews were ordered to leave the city within five months. For almost a hundred years Jews were not allowed to enter Memel except once a week for business reasons and even then they were not allowed to sleep there. Only in 1643 Jews who had come to Memel for business on Friday especially during the short winter days, were allowed to stay in the city on the Sabbath.

After 20 years, in 1664 the Jew Moshe Jacobson de Yonge came from Amsterdam with his family at the invitation of prince Frederick Wilhelm of Brandenburg. De Yonge contributed greatly to the development of commerce and shipping and initiated the salt trade. He brought with him a cantor, a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and teacher. He established a synagogue for himself and his assistants. During a short period there was a renewal of the Jewish community in the city. But after 20 years de Yonge left Memel and once again there were no Jews there.

Each year the authorities published an edict forbidding the entrance of Jewish peddlers into the city. The announcements were posted on the walls of the town hall. Only at the yearly trade fair were Jews allowed to come with their merchandise. Documents in the city archives show that in 1798 a Jewish merchant rented 14 stalls. Jewish merchants from Lithuania and Russia brought agricultural produce and expensive furs. They bought merchandise from the west to sell it in turn in their countries. Hebrew books both religious and secular were sold at the fair, sometimes whole libraries of assimilated Jews from Germany whose interest in Hebrew literature had lapsed. These books were much in demand in Eastern Europe where Hebrew presses were scarce. The edict forbidding Jews except for a few court Jews to settle in Memel was in force during all the 18th century. When the philosopher Moses Mendelsohn, the "father of Jewish enlightenment" and a friend of many German men of letters came to Memel on business, he was not allowed to spend the night there.

The limitations on Jewish settlement in Memel were lifted in 1812 as a result of the emancipation granted to the Jews of Prussia that year. The Jewish community was renewed and according to the census of 1831 there were 600 Jews there in addition to the Jews who traveled to Memel for business reasons and stayed for a short time.

In 1823 the Jewish cemetery was consecrated. It was the first Jewish religious institution in Memel. Before that the Jews of Memel were buried in cemeteries in Lithuania. Licenses to cross the borders were difficult to obtain, witness the story of a corpse which was brought in a wagon with his pipe still in his mouth.

There were two groups in the Jewish community in Memel which established its character; the Jews who came from Germany and the polish and Lithuanian Jews. Although they kept their separate identities, it did not prevent them from living side by side cooperating fully and without tensions.

In the forties of the 19th century the first synagogue and ritual baths were built by the timber merchants from Poland and Russia who lived in Memel during the autumn. It was called the Polish shul. Later in the middle of the 19th century a study house was established by the Lithuanian Jews who also used it for prayer services. In the middle of the century the German Jews founded their own synagogue.

In 1847 the established Jewish communities of Germany and Eastern Europe gained autonomy and every Jew was obliged to belong to the congregation and pay taxes. The edict of the authorities demanding the union of the different congregations did not arouse opposition and in 1862 a united community was founded. It was organized with the help of outside experts who founded the necessary communal institutions. In 1860 rabbi Israel Salanter came to Memel. He had founded the Musar (ethics) movement in 1843 in an effort to strengthen Judaism vis-a-vis the various ideological movements that flourished in the 19th century. His purpose was to disseminate his message in the cities of Germany as a shield against assimilation. His stay in the city left its mark on the community. His home was the centre for Jewish intellectuals who came to hear his sermons. He also published 12 issues of the weekly "Hatvuna" which printed torah commentaries of the great scholars of the time. He helped the consolidation of the community institutions and in 1862 together with rabbi Yitzchak Ruelf organized the burial society which was recognized by the authorities. This event was the foundation of the organized Jewish community. Rabbi Salanter organized several groups among them "Chevrat Lomdei Gemara" and "Chevrat Shas" (study groups) and gained many adherents and followers for his movement.

In 1865 rabbi Yitzchak Ruelf of German background was appointed rabbi of the community and officiated at this post for 33 years. The rabbi who had an extensive secular education was active in many fields. He edited the newspaper "Memeler Dampfboote", published five volumes on philosophy and also published works concerning Jews like "The Defense of Jews" the "Jews of Russia" and others. He was one of the founders of the synagogue of German Jews. He took part in almost all the social and cultural activities in the city. He was called "Dr. Hilf" (help). During the years 1867-69 there was a famine in Lithuania and in 1868 a cholera epidemic. The Lithuanian Jews in Memel organized an aid committee and Dr. Ruelf was chosen as executive secretary. In 1869 the year the committee functioned the German Jews and "the alliance" organized groups to receive the many immigrants from Lithuania at the German Russian border and aid them. During the eighties Dr. Ruelf was one of the founders and leaders of the "committee for aid to Russian Jews" which collected donations from Jews of the Diaspora for Jewish victims of the pogroms in southern Russia. As a result of the pogroms, many refugees passed through Memel on their way to the west and overseas.

In 1894 rabbi Ruelf founded a free loan society and in 1897 a charitable society for the aid of the needy. With the help of donations from German Jews and the lumber merchants of Russia rabbi Ruelf organized a hospital where poor Lithuanian Jews could also receive treatment. With the passing of time the original building proved to be too small and with the aid of donations a new building surrounded by gardens was erected on a hill overlooking the beautiful countryside. The building dedicated in 1896, was built on a plot purchased by the banker Leopold Alexander who bequeathed his fortune to the hospital. His brother-in- law Leon Rostowski, a wealthy educated man donated much of his wealth to the hospital and erected a large new wing.

In 1880 an elementary school "Israelitische Religions Schule" was established where Torah studies, Hebrew and German were taught. A year later there were 86 pupils in the school. The young people studied in the government schools and attended Jewish schools in the afternoon. The tolerance prevalent in the community was the reason that even the Haskala (enlightenment) movement did not meet the harsh opposition so typical of many communities in Lithuania. The community in Memel was able to absorb new ideas without undue friction. In 1896 "Chevrat Kiryat Sefer" was established and its purpose was to acquaint German Jews with Jewish history and literature.

In 1886 after an edict to deport Russian citizens from Memel, the number of Jews in Memel decreased. Rabbi Ruelf saw to it that each deported family received some compensation according to the size of the family. Only 100 Jewish families remained in the city. They earned their livelihood from the trade with Russia which was concentrated in their hands. They were under strict supervision of the authorities.

The threat of deportation was real during World War I but not implemented against most of the Jews because of the help of local groups who were ready to testify to the loyalty of the Jews.

After World War I Jews from different places came to Memel because of the ease with which the French authorities granted Jews citizenship and the commercial opportunities in the port city. After the annexation of Memel to Lithuania in 1924 the Lithuanians who were interested in reducing the percentage of Germans in the area encouraged the movement of Jews to the city and in the period between the two world wars the number of Jews tripled. A Talmud Torah was added to the Jewish school network in 1927. In 1936 the first Jewish elementary school was founded.

As a result of the edict of 1812 granting emancipation to the Jews of Prussia, many Jews from Poland and Lithuania came to the city. They were the leading merchants in the trade of lumber, grains and linens. The lumber trade was almost completely in the hands of Jews. With the development of the city, the economy became more varied and Jews became clerks and doctors.

With the annexation of the district to Lithuania after World War I, the Jewish community grew and its economic and social structure changed. Like many Lithuanian Jews, the Jews of Memel invested their money in real estate in the city and countryside. There were Jewish estate owners and farmers.

In the middle of the twenties of the 20th century, a Jewish community bank was founded. There were also private Jewish banks. The local authorities encouraged the development of industry. The Jews opened factories and employed Jewish workers who came from the small towns of Lithuania among them graduates of the O.R.T. Schools. They took the place of the textile experts from Czechoslovakia. The workers and artisans were 40% of the Jewish breadwinners.

At the beginning of the 30s, 25% of the shops in the city and 20% of the factories were owned by Jews. On the eve of World War II 330 factories were owned by Jews, flour mills, wood processing plants, textiles, tobacco, chocolate and others. 70% of the German workers were employed there.

Until 1880, 80% of the Jews in Memel were of east European origin and had strong ties with their brethren in Lithuania and with the Zionist movement. Prominent Jews in the community were nationalist and had great influence. Dr. Ruelf was the first western rabbi who was against the "dissenting rabbis" an expression coined by Herzl to describe the German rabbis who prevented the convening of the first Zionist congress in Munich. He also influenced Dr. Wolfsohn who in his youth had spent some time in Memel and was to succeed Herzl as the head of the Zionist movement.

The annexation of Memel to Lithuania increased the influence of Zionism. The changes in the structure of the Jewish population strenghtenend nationalism and resulted in a Zionist majority in the Jewish community council. The rabbi of Memel in the period between the two world wars, rabbi Eleazer Yehuda Rabinowitz was famed for his researches. He was a member of the mizrahi movement in Lithuania. Many of his articles were published in the Zionist periodical "Die Yiddische Shtimme" which appeared in kovno and encouraged immigration to Eretz Israel.

Among the Jewish workers were many pioneers who wanted to prepare themselves for the new life in Eretz Israel. Those who could not emigrate remained in Memel. Which was a port city and industrial centre and so had favorable conditions for "Hachshara" groups. In 1919, during the period of French rule, an emissary from Kovno arrived who with the help of local groups organized a branch of "Hechalutz" the largest in Lithuania. The pioneers lived as a community (one of which was scheduled to join the Gdud Ha-Avoda in Eretz Israel) and worked in different places even in non-Jewish firms, in agriculture, fishing and industry. Many did their agricultural training on German farms and competed successfully with the German and Lithuanian workers. They also worked in the port and even on shipbuilding. A "Beth Hechalutz" (pioneers' home) of three stories was built with the aid of donations; it became a meeting place and cultural centre for the thousands of pioneers who passed through Memel and for the Zionists in the area. There was also a small hospital and rest home for the pioneers. Many pioneers succeeded in leaving Soviet Russia illegally due to the good relations between the Jewish merchants of Memel and the captains of the freighters most of whom were German. The pioneers were brought to Germany and from there they emigrated to Eretz Israel.

Most of the Zionist parties were active in Memel also Zionist pioneer youth movements. "HaShomer Hazair", Betar, Hanoar Hazioni and others. There were 400 members in the sport groups, Bar-Kochba and Maccabi. The nationalist spirit penetrated social societies like "Yiddishe Kultur Bund" (Jewish cultural society) or the Jewish history and literature club. The editor of the "Memeler Dampfboote" Arye Sheinhaus organized a Hebrew-speaking circle and through their initiative a Hebrew kindergarten was organized. There was also a women's Zionist organization.

In 1938 there were 6,000 Jews in Memel 12,5% of the total population.


The Holocaust Period

When the Nazis attained power in Germany in 1933, anti-Semitic propaganda increased and there were demands to return Memel to Germany. In 1937 the veto of the Lithuanian government prevented the adoption of a law passed by the local parliament forbidding Jewish artisans to work in Memel. The Nazis continued their agitation, smashed windows of synagogues. In 1937 they attacked Jewish summer campers. In 1938 they demanded the adoption of the Nuremberg laws. In the summer of 1938 there was a serious decline in the situation of the Memel Jews. The local authorities acted according to orders from Berlin. Terror was applied, particularly against Jewish doctors. Many Jews in Memel left their businesses. After the Munich pact in 1938, the Jews began to leave the city. During that year about 50% left. At the end of 1938 the Nazis held 26 out of 29 seats in the local parliament and in practice they ruled the city.

After the ultimatum Germany gave Lithuania in March 1939 the German army occupied Memel. The last Jews in Memel went to kovno and other places in Lithuania. The ORT network opened vocational courses for adults and the ort school in Kovno absorbed the young refugee students. When the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out in June 1941 all of Lithuania was occupied by the Germans. The fate of the Memel refugees was like that of their Jewish brethren in their new homes.

In January 1945 Memel was liberated by the Soviet army and annexed to the Lithuanian republic of the Soviet Union.

In 1967 there were 1,000 Jews in Memel but there was no Jewish organization there.

Panosiskes

Jewish sources: Panshishok; Yiddish: פּאַנאַשישאָק (Panashishok); Lithuanian: Panošiškės; Polish: Panaszyszki; Russian: Panashishki. Other names: Panoškių Žydkaimis, Žydkaimis, Zhidkaimis, Panasishok

A small settlement in the Trakia district, south-eastern Lithuania. Panosiskes is located on the Verkne river tributary of the Nemunas river. 

First Jews settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania around the 15th century and were included in the Russian Empire in the 18th century. The oldest documents of Jewish history included in local central archives are from the 15th century.


21st Century

Included in the film To the Forests is footage from the late 1980s showing houses where Jewish farmers in Panosiskes had lived. A local farmer, Yiddish speaker, shared some information about his former Jewish neighbors. The Jewish farmers had been known by names as Zorkheke and Osherke. The film was screened several times in Israel.

The wider area of Trakai has a Karaite Jewish community. They have a Trakai kenesa, a synagogue which is still a prayer location built in the 18th century. This community is a remnant of the past Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth era (1569-1795).

 

History

Panosiskes (also called Jydkaimis) was a village of Jewish peasants who settled in 1849 on land belonging to the government. In 1897 158 Jews lived there and owned 4,180 dunams. After World War I (1914-1918) only 20 Jewish families were left. Most of them still worked in agriculture.

Prior to World War II about 100 Jews lived in Panosiskes.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet union.

When Lithuania was conquered by the Germans, after their attack on Soviet Russia in June 1941, the nationalistic Lithuanians took over the region and began to persecute their Jewish neighbors. Lithuanians who were hiding Jews were threatened with the death penalty and thus forced Jews hoping for shelter among the gentiles to return to their settlement. A number of Jews fled into the forests and joined the partisans.

On September 20, 1941, the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Panosiskes Jews were sent to the ghetto of Trakia; on the eve of Yom Kippur they were murdered together with the Jews from Trakia and its environs.

Veliuona

In Jewish sources Velon

A small town in the Kovno (Kaunas) district, central Lithuania. Veliuona lies on the shore of the Njemen river, west of the district town of Kovno.

Before World War I there were about 100 Jewish families in the town.

In April 1915, during the war, an edict of expulsion ordered the Jews to leave the town within two hours. The town was destroyed during the war. After the war a number of the expulsed Jews returned and in 1921 there were about 258 Jews in Veliuona.

At the end of the 19th century there was a yeshiva in the town, founded by Rabbi Yacob Yoseph. During the period of Lithuania's independence (1918-1940) there was a Yiddish school and two prayer-houses in Veliuona.

The Jews made a living from small trade and artisanship. Others worked on rafts on the river and most of the families had a small farmyard.

The Zionist movement found no adherents in the town as the Jews there were against Zionism.

Before World War II there were about 40 Jewish families in the town.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On the morrow of the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) the German army took the town. Immediately a gang of local nationalistic armed Lithuanians organized in order to harass the Jews. After the conquest of all of Lithuania (within a few days) the German authorities published orders an identifying mark, the yellow patch, their rights were nullified, and their lives and possessions were without protection.

In the town there were no German authorities and the Lithuanian gangs ruled without restraint. Armed Lithuanians patrolled the streets, harassed the Jews, looted their possessions, sent them to forced labor and killed a number of them.

At the beginning of July 1941 the Lithuanians imprisoned all the Jewish men in the prayer-house and kept them there for several days without food or water. Then they gave them shoes and marched them to a nearby wood, seemingly for work. In the wood a gang of Lithuanians armed with rifles awaited them, near trenches dug beforehand. The Jews were ordered to strip and were murdered on the spot.

On September 4, 1941 the Lithuanians murdered the rest of the Jews, mostly women and children, 169 souls, near the river not far from the town.

Punia

A small town in the Alytus district, southern Lithuania.

Punia is situated on the bank of the Njemen river, about 13 km north-east of Alytus. Prior to World War II there were 15 Jewish families in Punia.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet union.

A few days after the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) the Germans conquered all of Lithuania. Nationalistic Lithuanians took over the town, maltreated the Jews and made certain that the discriminatory orders of the Germans were carried out. On August 29, 1941 most of the Punia Jews were taken to the small town of Butrimonys and put together with the Jews of Burimonys and its environs in a ghetto instituted in two small and narrow streets. In the night of September 7-8 all the Jews including those of Punia were taken to the yard of the police station and on September 9th they were taken to Kaludziai, shot into pits prepared beforehand and buried in them.

Sudargas

In Jewish sources Sudarg

A small town in the Sakiai district, south-western Lithuania.

In 1856, 627 Jews lived in Sudarg; after World War I (1914-1918) only 400 were left. Most of them made a meager living from small trade. There was a synagogue, a prayer house and an elementary school in the town. A charitable institution helped the needy.

Among the rabbis of Sudarg Rabbi Zvi Marom wrote Eretz Hazvi; he died young and Rabbi Sender was his successor. After World War I Rabbi Regensberg officiated in Sudarg; in 1922 he emigrated to New York and served there as rabbi. He was the last rabbi of Sudarg.

Prior to World War II there were about 20 Jewish families in Sudarg.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Already on the first day of the German attack on Soviet Russia the German army entered Sudarg. The town was inside the 25 km belt along the border with Germany (East Prussia and the conquered lands) in which the Jews were condemned to instant extermination. Already at the beginning of July the Germans took the Jewish men to the district town of Sakiai and on July 6 the women and children were also taken there. All of them were murdered in Sakiai and buried in a mass grave.

Mariampole

A district town in south western Lithuania.

Mariampole is situated on the bank of the river Sesupe, among hilly woods; it is a railway junction and crossroads on the way between Germany and Russia.

A small town called Mariampole was founded on the site of a large village and in 1792 received the rights of a town. When Poland was partitioned in 1795 the regions fell under Prussian rule and later came under the sovereignty of the Warsaw principality. After the Congress of Vienna (1815) the region belonged to Russia and between the two world wars to independent Lithuania.

In the middle of the eighteenth century most of the population of Mariampole was Jewish. After the great conflagration of 1866 they rebuilt the town in stone and it was considered one of the most beautiful and modern towns in Lithuania. Prior to World War I (1914-1918) Mariampole was in the Suwalk area and 5000 Jews lived there. During the war the front came close to the town. A number of Jews left but returned when the town was occupied by the Germans (1915). During the same period of Lithuania's independence Jews from other small towns came to settle in Mariampole. During the period of Lithuania's independence 2,545 Jews were in Mariampole, only 21% of the total population, but most of the local trade was in their hands.

During the 19th century, when Mariampole was under Russian czarist rule, a Russian high school was founded and became a cultural center. Under the numerus clausus only 10% of the rule of pupils could be Jewish; but anyone was allowed to take the examinations of the high school; so that many Jewish young people from Mariampole were able to continue their studies at the universities in Europe. There existed also a Russian high school for girls where many Jewish girls studied, among them the writer Dvora Baron.

At the beginning of the 20th century a heder metukan, in which lay subjects were also taught, opened in Mariampole and before World War I, it developed into a modern Hebrew school. In 1919 the first Hebrew high school in Lithuania was founded in the town and two elementary schools, one of the tarbuth (culture) network, the other one of the religious yavneh network. Later Ort organized the teaching of trades. There was a Hebrew kindergarten, two libraries and a drama circle.

The charitable institutions of the Mariampole Jewish community served as an example for other communities. They included among others an old age home, an orphanage and financial help for the needy.

Synagogue, a prayer chamber and a kloiz (small prayer house). The local rabbis were famous for their learning. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Shlomo Butnitzky.

Mariampole's geographical position, its situation on a crossroad, its closeness to the German border and its relation with Russia, caused a fast economic development of the town in which the local Jews played an important part. Most of them were traders, mainly of corn, flax, poultry and fruit, trading both locally and exporting mostly to Germany and England.

During the period of Lithuania's independence the local Jews owned three flour mills, a sawmill, an electric power station and a few workshops. Jews also worked in agriculture, some had small farms near their homes, and a few owned estates. The Jewish bank had 524 members in 1929.

During the Russian Revolution of 1905 young Jews from Mariampole took part; a number of them were arrested and put on trial after the failure of the revolution; they were sentenced to imprisonment and hard labor in Siberia. There were branches of the Bund and the Small Bund in the town.

The Zionist organization started its activities in Mariampole early in the twentieth century and the local Halutzim went to Eretz Israel even before World War I. After the war the Zionist activities were resumed, branches of the Zionist parties opened in the town; the young people were members of Hehalutz, Maccabi, Hapoel, Hashomer Hazair or Betar. Zionist women's organization were also active in the town.

On the agricultural estate of the Zakrisky family there was a training center for pioneers preparing them for Aliyah to Eretz Israel. Many of the members of the community knew Hebrew; Hebrew newspapers and Hebrew books had a big circulation.

Prior to World War II Mariampole had a total population of 10,000. More than a third were Jews.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

When Germany attacked Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) Mariampole was bombed from the air. Entire streets were destroyed and the whole town was enveloped in flames. Dozens of people were killed. Many Jews fled east. The next day the Germans entered the town and blocked all roads east. Only a few Jews succeeded in escaping to the Soviet Union; most of them had to return to Mariampole. Many of them were murdered by Lithuanians who ambushed them near the town.

Already during the first days of the occupation a number of Jews were murdered under different pretexts. Under German orders the Jews had to report for work every morning and were sent to work on public works or for the German army. Their overseers were Lithuanians and a group of Jews were to look for avaders. A number of young Jews revolted and refused to work for the German enemy; they were executed.

On July 15 orders were published imposing restrictions on the Jews. They were forbidden to use the sidewalks and public amusement places, to use non-Jewish services; they could buy food only from special shops and only in the late afternoon, after the general population had finished their shopping; they had to wear a yellow patch in the form of a Magen David.

The Germans assembled a great number of Jews in the yard of the great synagogue and ordered them to burn the torah scrolls and other holy books of the synagogue. Already in July the Jews were evicted from their homes and transferred to the prayer houses in the yard of the synagogue and to some houses nearby; this was designated as a ghetto. From there the Jews were taken for forced labor; young women were taken at night and young men were ostensibly taken for work and murdered by Germans outside the town.

In August 1941 the young people were sent to dig pits near the army barracks, outside town near the river. The use for the pits was clear and the notables of the community tried to avert the disaster. At the end of August the Jews were ordered to pack their belongings and prepare for a journey. They were promised survival in a spacious ghetto outside of town, arable lands to cultivate and total autonomy. When they reached the assembly place the rabbi, the hazzan and the old men of the community were tied to the tails of horses and dragged on the road; the Jews who had to follow them understood that this was their last way. In the barracks the men were put in the stables and kept under harsh conditions while the Lithuanian guards harassed them. Until the end of August Jews from other small towns were also taken there. On September 1, 1941 the Jews were brought in groups to the pits, shot to death by the nationalistic Lithuanians who served the Germans, and buried in a mass grave. Many were buried alive.


After the war the survivors of the Mariampole community set a memorial stone on the site of the mass grave.

Utena

District town in north-eastern Lithuania.

Utena was a village built in the 13th century between two lakes. As the place expanded, it became a center for the neighboring small towns and villages. During the reign of the Russian Tsar, Utena belonged to the district of Vilkomir (Ukmerge). It became a district town in the independent Lithuania which existed between the two World Wars.

The Jewish community of Utena was one of the first in Lithuania. In the local Jewish cemetery there are tombstones of the 16th century.

In 1765 341 Jews lived in Utena; together with the neighboring communities their number reached 565. In 1847 the community numbered 1416 people. During the two last decades of the 19th century great fires broke out in the town, nevertheless the Jewish population grew, and by the end of the century reached the number 2,500 (75% of the entire population).

There were six prayer-houses in the town and study circles for Talmud. The community had charity organizations such as "zedaka g'dola", "linat zedek", "bikur holim" and "hakhnassat kalla".

The last rabbi officiating in the community was Rabbi Nahman Hershkovitz.

Before World War I the Jewish children studied in "hadarim" and Talmud Tora, there was also a "heder metukan", which offered secular education as well as religious studies.

During the days of independent Lithuania, 280 pupils studied in the elementary "Tarbut" school, 120 pupils in a Yiddish school and 50 pupils in the Hebrew high school.

In 1935 there were about 5.000 Jews in Utena, 33% of the general population.

The main occupation of the Jews was in trade and artisanship. The main trade was in flax, skins, fruit, eggs Jews bought the produce on market days in the villages and small towns and exported them via Dvinsk and Panevezys. In the days of independent Lithuania the Jews were ousted from trade, which was taken over by the government and Lithuanian traders.

As a result of the economic crisis many Jews emigrated to South Africa, the U.S.A., Cuba and the Argentine. After they had settled in those places, they helped their families who had stayed in Utena.

In 1937 there were 150 Jewish artisans in Utena; among them were tailors, shoemakers, butchers, bakers, metal workers, carpenters, watchmakers and one smith. The "Jewish Bank" had 600 members, and a mutual credit institution was founded.

After World War I the Jew Avraham Jurath was elected mayor of the town, at the same time a Jewish judge, judge Berman, also officiated in the town.

During the 1930's, Zionism became the center of Jewish interest in Utena. There were branches of the Revisionist-Zionist organization. Zionist youth movements and Jewish sport associations were there. Jews were also members of communist organizations and of the volkist-Yiddish camp.

In 1941 there were about 3,000 Jews living in Utena.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union and became a Soviet republic. Jewish communal life came to a standstill. The Zionist parties and youth movements were disbanded and the Hebrew educational establishments were closed. Jewish livelihood was harmed too.

On the 25th of June, three days after the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), Utena was taken by the German army. The Lithuanians welcomed the Germans with open arms, and already on the next day the Jews found themselves among a hostile population who started chasing, robbing and beating them. The "einsatzgruppen" joined the German army in order to annihilate the "enemies of the Reich", and first among them, the Jews. Groups of armed nationalistic Lithuanians aided the Germans. They marked the houses of the Jews with the word "Jude" (Jew in German) to guide the Germans. The German soldiers used to harass the Jews for fun.

On the third day of the conquest, the Lithuanian burst into the yards of the synagogues ("schulhof"), threw the Torah scrolls and the other holy scriptures into the yard and burnt them. They tormented, insulted and injured the rabbi of the town Varena who happened to be there. After some time, orders were published which provided legal backing for patch, their movements in the town were restricted and most relations with the local population were forbidden. Many Jews were arrested on the suspicion of being communists; the jails overflowed with prisoners and the synagogues were turned into prisons for Jews, Russians and communists.

On the 14th of July 1941, orders for the Jews to leave their homes by noon were published in the town. The Lithuanians immediately began looting Jewish property in the deserted houses.

About 2,000 Jews were taken from the town to crossroads in the forest. There they were stripped of any valuables they had on their bodies. They stayed in the forest for about three weeks, guarded by Lithuanians and by armed Germans. Every morning the men were taken for forced labor in the town.

On the 31th of July 1941, the Germans registered all the Jewish men from 17- 55 of age who left the forest, about 500 persons, among them the rabbi of the community Nachman Hershkowitz. All of them were shot to death in trenches prepared beforehand. Four days later about 40 women were taken from the forest and murdered.

On the 7th of August 1941 the Germans ordered all the Jewish men who had remained in the forest, to be brought to the Gestapo headquarters in Utena. There a selection was made and apart from the Jews working in indispensable jobs for the Germans, all the men were taken to a hill in the forest near the town and murdered there. On the same day the Jews of Vizuonos were also killed there. The rest of the community, mainly women and children were murdered the same way a few days later. In the forest of Rese, two km. north of Utena 4,000 Jews from Utena, Kuktiskes, Vizuonos, Tauraginai, Alunta, Moletai and Uzpalis were murdered.

After the war the community did not revive. At the end of the 1960's there were only 50 Jews in Utena and not even one synagogue. In 1963 the grounds of the Jewish cemetery were put up for building.

On the site of the murders, in the forest of Rese a memorial was erected to the Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Sveksna

A town in the district of Taurage, southwest Lithuania.

Jews settled in Sveksna in the 17th century. In 1766, 420 of them were listed among the payers of the head tax. At the end of the 19th century about 800 Jews lived in the town. After World War I (1914-1918) about 200 Jewish families were living there, and engaged mainly in trade and crafts.

Before World War I (1914-1918) there was a local yeshiva, founded by the community's rabbi, Rabbi Benzion Zev Kornitz. There was also a Talmud torah school and two heders (primary classes for small children). At the time of independent Lithuania, between the two world wars, the town also had a tarbut Hebrew school. The graduates continued their studies at the Hebrew high schools in Kovno. There were three houses of prayer in Sveksna: a synagogue, a house of study and a kloiz (a room for study and prayer). The last rabbi to officiate in Sveksna was Rabbi Shalom Yitzhak Levitan.

In the spring of 1922 the town underwent four days of rioting against the Jewish community because of a blood libel against the local Jews by nationalistic Lithuanians. The Jewish Maccabi youth prevented loss of life. Branches of several Zionist movements operated in the town, most of the young people belonged to Zionist movements, and there was a local training farm to prepare them for settling in Eretz Israel.

On the eve of World War II about 100 Jews were living in Sveksna.


The Holocaust Period

After World War II broke out (1 September, 1939) and with the German occupation of Poland, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

The Germans entered Sveksna on the first day of their offensive against the Soviet Union (22 June, 1941). Because of its proximity to the border, the town was in the 25 kilometer strip within which the German army decided to rapidly liquidate all the Jews and communists. Among the decrees against the Jews was the order to wear the yellow band and dispatching men to forced labor. On Friday, 27 June, SS and SD Germans came to the town to begin the process of extermination, and to select Jews who would be fit for slave labor in Germany. Jewish men, from ten years of age and upwards, about 200, were assembled and led to the synagogue. There they were held under guard, their valuables taken from them and they were severely abused by their Lithuanian guards. The women and children were kept locked in their homes under the watch of armed Lithuanians. Four women and a man were murdered and buried in a common grave in the Jewish cemetery. On the Shabbath, about 100 men were taken from the synagogue to a village near Heidekrug. There, in barracks used for war prisoners, the Germans assembled the Jews whom they had selected for slave labor. The remaining 100, especially the aged, were taken to another camp. In the middle of July or the beginning of August dozens of them were murdered by the Germans and by October of the same year they were all murdered at a killing site in the village of Siaudvyciai and buried there.

The Jews who still remained in Sveksna, women, children and a few men were taken from their homes and concentrated in the Street of the Jews. They were subject to starvation and abuse, and the women sent to do forced labor. On the first day of Rosh Hashana 5702, 22 September 1941, they were all taken to a nearby forest, murdered by the road and buried there. The grave was discovered after the war and a monument built there.

Among the Jews who were in Heidekrug, many were murdered in Auschwitz, some died in an epidemic when they were sent to clear the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto and only a few of the Jews of Sveksna who had been sent to the Dachau camp were still alive when the camp was liberated by the American army in 1945.

Pakruojus

In Jewish sources: Pokroy

A small town in the Siauliai district, northern Lithuania.

The Jewish settlement in Pokroy is one of the earliest in Lithuania. During the period of the Committee of the Lithuanian Countries in the 16th and 17th centuries the Jewish community was a center for the representatives of the region.

Before Wolrd War I (1914-1918) there were 1,400 Jews in Pokroy with an active community life. Many left during the war. In independent Lithuania, between the two world wars there were only 406 Jews there. In the census of 1923 there were 454 Jews in Pokroy.

In independent Lithuania, between the two world wars, the Jews made a meager living from trade and artisanship. The Jewish bank which was the economic mainstay of the community at that time, had 107 members.

Many young people emigrated to South Africa and the Americas and some went to Eretz Israel. During the 1930s the town was populated mostly by the old of the community. The last officiating rabbi of Pokroy was Rabbi Salman Kron.

Prior to World War II there were 450 Jews in Pokroy.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 28, a few days after the German attack of Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) the Germans entered Pokroy. The nationalistic Lithuanians organized under German auspices and started looting Jewish homes. They persecuted the Jews, beat them, destroyed their houses and robbed them of their valuables.

On July 10, all the Jewish men were taken from their homes and shot to death outside the town. The women and children were gathered in a kind of ghetto; there they were kept under guard for a number of weeks and on August 4, 1941 were killed and thrown into pits dug beforehand outside the town.

The Jewish physician, Dr. Schreiber was kept on in Pokroy and continued to work. In April 1942 he also was murdered together with 20 Jews who were found in hiding in the villages of the region.

The only Jews surviving after the war were those taken to the ghetto of Siauliai before the murder of the Pokroy Jewish men.

In a wood near Pokroy are buried about 300 of the local Jews.

Anyksciai

A small town in the district of Utena, in the east of Lithuania.

Anyksciai, one of the biggest of the many small towns in the district, surrounded by hills and forests was a summer resort. During the period between the two world wars it became part of independent Lithuania.

In 1847, 1556 Jews lived in Anyksciai; in 1897 their number grew to 2,754 (69.7% of the general population).

During World War I the Jews fled into the interior of Russia. The town was destroyed but rebuilt during the period of Lithuania's independence (1918-1940). The members of the Jewish community returned to the town, rebuilt their houses and revived their businesses with the help of family members living abroad or the Joint (a united charitable American-Jewish organization). In 1921 the Jewish population dwindled to 1,800 (45% of the general population).

A number of rabbis, famous for their learning, officiated in Anyksciai. The hassidim had their own rabbi. Rabbi Eliahu Yakov Dov, the son of Rabbi Haim Shor (1848-1936) the author of the book of responsa Neteeot Haim, one of the first members of Hovevey-Zion in Lithuania, officiated as rabbi of Anyksciai for thirty years; in his old age he emigrated to Israel. The last rabbi of Anyksciai was Rabbi Kalman Yizhak Kadishevitz, called the Zaddik of Lotova author of Toldoth Yizhak.

In the town there were six prayer houses and a hassidic klois (prayer house). The prayer houses included the old synagogue, the new synagogue, the prayer house of the shoemakers and of the Talmud torah and also the Mountain Synagogue (Bergschul).

During the period of Lithuania's independence there was a small yeshiva in Anyksciai, a number of hadarim (religious schools) and three schools. Fifty pupils studied in the Yavne school, in the Tarbut school 60 pupils, and in the popular Yiddish school 120 pupils. In the Yiddish kindergarten there was an attendance of 30 children.

Jews of Anyksciai found a living in trade, mainly of flax. Some ones were busy in the manufacture of house shoes, in the shoe factory and in workshops for agricultural machines. Women worked in the manufacture of stockings. A number of Jews were artisans (166 persons). About 50 Jews were busy rafting wood to Germany on the rivers Sventoji and Nemunas. Anyksciai was known for its fruit-wines.

In independent Lithuania the Jewish traders and artisans were ousted from their businesses because the government supported Lithuanian enterprises. The popular Jewish bank helped the afflicted merchants during this period. In Anyksciai there worked a physician, a dentist and a pharmacist, all Jews. During the third decade of the twentieth century many members of the Jewish community emigrated to the USA and to South Africa.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Anyksciai was one of the centers of the Bund in Lithuania. After the First World War, all Zionist parties, movements and youth movements opened branches in the town. Maccabi and other sport organizations became active there too. Some Jews from the town were active in the communist party.

In 1941 there were 2,000 Jews in Anyksciai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

The Zionist parties were outlawed; the Jewish educational institutions were closed down and in fact, Jewish community life was paralysed. The possibilities of earning an income became difficult because of the change of regime.

With the outbreak of the Soviet-German war (June 22, 1941) the town filled with refugees, trying to escape into Latvia. The Soviet government was interested in their staying in the town. After two days the people of the Soviet apparatus and the police left the town.

When the German army entered Anyksciai, they together with the Lithuanians massacred the Jewish refugees. Armed gangs of Lithuanians burst into Jewish houses, attacked and murdered the inhabitants and looted their possessions. A group of those same Lithuanians put themselves at the disposal of the Germans and were appointed as auxiliary police force.

At the beginning of July the Germans demarcated a ghetto zone in the area of the synagogues (Schulhof). The site was too small to contain all the Jews of the place; many tried to escape but were forced to return; only a very few succeeded in finding shelter with the peasants of the neighborhood. Every day SS men and the Lithuanian police visited the ghetto, brutalized the Jews, raped and murdered. Educated Jews under suspicion of collaborating with the Soviets and many Jewish refugees were arrested and imprisoned. Some of them were murdered in prison while others were transferred to Utena where they shared the fate of the Jews from Anyksciai.

After a short time the Jews of Anyksciai were taken to a nearby forest and kept there under the open sky, in spite of the fact that there were empty summer houses in the vicinity. Able bodied persons were sent from there to forced labor, mostly to the peasants.

At the end of July 1941 all the Jews were sent back from their work into the forest. The Jews from the vicinity were also taken there. On July 28, 1941 the Lithuanians under the supervision of the Germans began to take out groups of men. Near the sandhills called Hasenberg, about one km from Anyksciai, and some were ordered to dig trenches; the others, among them Rabbi Kalman Kadishevitz, were forced to do physical exercises in order to tire them. Later they were all shot and thrown into the trenches, including the people who were only wounded or not touched at all.

On August 29, 1941 the women and children were also murdered. The killers were mostly local Lithuanians and they were helped by Lithuanian policemen from other places. 1,500 Jews were killed on that day.

 

Seda

In Jewish sources: Siad

A small town in Mazeikiai district, north western Lithuania.

Siad is situated on the shores of a large lake, 25 kilometers from the district town and the same distance from the town of Tels (Telsiai). In 1885 most of the houses in the town burnt down and were rebuilt. In 1897 1,384 Jews (69% of the general population) lived in Siad. Prior to World War I (1914-1918) there were only 800 Jews and in 1923 815.

There was a prayer house in Siad and an elementary school of the "Yavne" network. The last officiating rabbi was rabbi Mordecai Rabinovitz.

Among the Siad Jews were traders and artisans and some owners of small farms. Near Siad there were about a dozen such families, making a living from farming. The area was called "the Jewish estate" by the Lithuanians.

On Mondays and Fridays there were weekly markets. Three yearly fairs were held in Siad. In spite of that the Jews could barely eke out a living; in the period between the two World Wars many young Jews emigrated to the U.S.A. and South Africa.

After World War I there were branches of various Zionist the youth movements "Hashomer Hatzair", "Hanoar HaZioni" and the sport organizations "Maccabi" and "Hapoel". The Siad Jews donated generously to the funds for Eretz Israel. The youth went to training camps and many came to Eretz Israel.

Prior to World War II there were about 200 Jewish families in Siad.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Already on the second day of the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) German soldiers entered Siad. Nationalistic Lithuanians organized in order to terrorize the Jews. They kidnapped Jewish youths off the streets and shot them in the cemetery. They also murdered rabbi Mordecai Rabinovitz, after severe maltreatment.

At the end of June and beginning of July all the Siad Jews were assembled in a narrow lane of about 2 m. Width, between two market buildings where the Jewish shops were situated. They were kept there several days without food or water until on July 3, 1941 they were taken to the "Jewish estate". There the men and boys were separated from their families and murdered nearby. About 500 Jews are buried in a mass grave about 500 meters from the village.

At the beginning of August the rest of the Siad Jews, women, children and old people, were marched to Mazeikiai; those too weak to walk were put on peasant's carts. On August 9, 1941 the Siad Jews were murdered together with the Jews of Mazeikiai and its environs. They were all buried in a mass grave on the banks of the river Venta. German officers and soldiers were in charge of the killing fields. Nationalistic Lithuanians in organized groups were brought in especially from Mazeikiai and other towns in order to execute the murders by shooting.

Zeimelis

Zheĭmeli (Russian); Zheimel (Yiddish);  Žeimele (Latvian); Żejmele (Polish); Scheimeln (German)

Alternate spellings: Zheymelis, Zheyme, Žeimys, Žeimelio, Zheiml, Zieme, Zemel, Ziemel, Zeymel, Zoimel

A small town in the Siauliai district, northern Lithuania, near the border with Latvia. It belonged to the Kingdom of Poland until 1795 when Poland was partitioned, and it became part of the Russian Empire.

 

History

Zeimelis is one of the oldest Jewish settlements in Lithuania as evidenced by tombstones in its cemetery dating back to the 18th century.  According to a census of 1766, there were 428 Jews living in the town.

The Jews made their living through commerce, crafts, and agriculture.

By 1847 the Jewish population had grown to 753.

In 1851, the local landowner, Prince Liven, attempted to oust the Jews from the village, claiming he needed the land for his own use. As the Jews did not have documents to prove that they lived on the land legally, he was able to obtain approval from the Kovno guberniya (administrative subdivision of the Russian Empire).  The senate did not approve the decision, giving a respite to the Jews, but the Prince again appealed in 1856. In 1859 the guberniya decided to give the Jews the right to live in Zeimelis and have their own community, religious school and cemetery. The Jewish community promised to pay taxes for using the land.

A synagogue and beth medrash (study house) were built in 1862.

One of the most renowned individuals to have lived in Zeimelis was Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook (1865-1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, considered one of the fathers of religious Zionism, and one of the most important Torah scholars of his generation. In 1887 he was elected the rabbi of Zeimelis, serving the town for seven years and making peace between bitterly warring religious factions in the community. During his tenure he enriched the library of the Bet Medrash and strengthened the welfare societies that existed.

According to a census of 1897 there were 679 Jews living in Zeimelis out of a total population of 1266.

During World War I, the community suffered greatly. In May, 1915, The Jews were expelled  into Russia by orders of the tsarist government based on spurious charges that they were giving aid to the Germans. There were insufficient freight wagons, and most of those driven out left on foot.  Meanwhile their property was looted by the local population.  Many of these Jews never returned to Zeimelis.
 

Toward the end of  World War I, in 1918,  Lithuania  became independent.  After the new state issued a declaration of autonomy for minorities,  the Jewish community of Zeimelis elected a committee of seven that was active in most areas of Jewish life in the town  between 1919-1925.

According to the Lithuanian government census of 1923, the number of Jews in Zeimelis was 378 (31% of a total population of 1209).

Between the two World Wars, the separation of Zeimelis  from its rural hinterland, which became part of Latvia, together with policies of the Lithuanian government  that undermined the economic life of the Jews, caused many to emigrate to the United States, South Africa, and the land of Israel.

During the 1920’s most of the Jews of the town made their living by commerce.  There was a Jewish bank that played an important role in  the town’s economy.  Zeimelis became a center for the export of flax, but in 1928 there was a crop failure and as a result many families became needy and dependent on outside support.

The community maintained a library of Yiddish books, and in 1927 a new Jewish elementary school belonging to the Tarbuth network was built with a room to house the library. The community also had an amateur theater group.

During the 1920’s and 30’s the Zionist movement became active and there were a number of Zionist parties represented in the town. Zionist youth movements encouraging emigration to the land of Israel were active including branches of  HeChalutz and Betar.  There was a local Maccabi sports group with a football team.

In 1927-1928 five Jewish butchers were put on trial for the alleged murder of a Lithuanian veterinarian, who had fallen into an uncovered well and drowned while returning from a meeting with them. They were found guilty and condemned to five years imprisonment but the supreme court changed the sentence to eight months. The Jews saw this as the Lithuanian version of the Beilis trial that took place in  tsarist Russia in 1913, when Menahem Mendel Beilis was accused of committing a ritual murder of a Christian child.

Prior to World War II there were about 50 Jewish families in Zeimelis .
 

The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer of 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union. Jewish businesses in Zeimelis were nationalized, Zionist political parties and youth organizations shut down, and Jewish schools closed.

Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and all of Lithuania was conquered within a few days. The Nazis entered Zeimelis on June 27, but only passed through the town on their way to the front.

Authority was given to local Lithuanians who proceeded to expel the Jewish residents of the town from the larger houses into smaller dwellings shared by several families.  Anti-Jewish regulations were promulgated.


On August 8, 1941, without any warning, the Lithuanian henchmen of the Germans assembled all the Jews, took them to a forest near the village of Veleisiai, about two kilometers  from Zeimelis, shot them all to death and  buried them in a mass grave.

Ten Jewish families who had escaped into Russia before the invasion and one Jewish boy who was saved by two Lithuanian priests who swore that he was not Jewish, were the only survivors of the war.
 

Postwar

After the war the killing field was fenced in but no memorial was erected.

In 1956 the synagogue building was demolished by order of the local authorities.

In 1959 there were 1,106 people living in Zeimilis of whom not one was a Jew.

Ariogala

A small town in the district of Kedainiai, central Lithuania.

Ariogala, one of the oldest settlements in Lithuania, is mentioned in documents from 1282. Between the two world wars it belonged to independent Lithuania.

In 1847 there were 1,237 Jews in the town, and by 1897 their number had reached 1,541, about 70% of the general population. During the First world war, 1914-1918, the town was destroyed. In 1915 the Jews were expulsed from it. After the war, a number of Jews returned to Ariogala and restored its community. In 1921 there were 420 Jews in the town. Ariogala had three prayer-houses, one synagogue, and groups for the study of the torah and mishna. Until the First World War the children of the community studied in a Talmud torah, in six hadarim (religious schools) and in a yeshiva. The Jewish children of the whole area also studied in these institutions.

During the independence of Lithuania (1918-1940) about 70 pupils studied in the Hebrew school and about 20 in hadarim. There were many charitable groups active in the town.

Ariogala was known for its many rabbis; some of them wrote religious treatises, several of them served as chief rabbis and heads of yeshivoth all over Lithuania, in other countries, even in the USA.

Rabbi Yakov Kastin, the author of a religious treatise Mishpatei Yakov lived in Ariogala and was murdered together with all the community during the Holocaust. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Yossef Benzion Friedman.

Jews from Ariogala emigrated to South Africa and the USA, a few came to Israel.

The local Jews dealt in small trade and artisanship. Most of them were shopkeepers. A few were exporters of flax and wood or traders in cattle and leather. Thursday was market day in the town; there were also two yearly fairs. Two flour mills, a brick factory and a wine and brandy distillery belonged to Jews. The Jewish bank had 100 members in 1929.

In the first half of 1941 there were 450 Jews in Ariogala.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 23, 1941 on the morrow of the German attack on the Soviet Union the Germans invaded Ariogala. Already during the first days of the invasion, the leaders and notables of the community were shot to death by the nationalistic Lithuanians. From among them the Germans formed an auxiliary police force who were also in charge of the Jews.

The Jews were ejected from their houses and forced to stay in a ghetto surrounded by barbed wire and situated between the synagogue and the prayer-house and the klause (a small room). Jews from other places in the area were also transferred to the ghetto. Every morning Jews were taken from the ghetto for forced labor and exposed to harassment.

At the end of the summer of 1941 the Jews were ordered to leave the ghetto, on the pretext of moving to a permanent place of work till the end of the war. They were allowed to take personal things with them. The Germans and the Lithuanian police took the Jews to the banks of the river Dubysa and there shot them and buried them in trenches prepared beforehand.

Between August 28 and September 2, 1941 662 Jews were in the vicinity. Among the Lithuanian auxiliary police who were active in the killings were treachers of the town's school and a priest.


At the inquest held after the war, one Lithuanian peasant and one auxiliary policeman gave evidence about the massacre. The auxiliary police had been brought in especially to help with the actual killing.

 

Siaudine

Shaudina in Jewish sources

A small town in the district of Sakiai, southwest Lithuania.

Siaudine is located along the shore of the Neman river across from the town of Jurbarkas. In 1931, 120 Jews were living there, engaged in trade and farming.

The town had a prayer house built in 1920. The community's children attended the heder (Jewish elementary school) and some of them continued their education in Jurbarkas. Among those who came from the town was Zalman Laviush, one of the veteran actors in the Eretz Israel theater. There was no rabbi in the town, and so the rabbi of Sudargas was consulted in matters of religious practice. The cemetery of Sudargas also served the Jews of Siaudine.

On the eve of World War II there were about 20 Jewish families in Siaudine.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (1 September 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule, and was annexed to the Soviet Union at the end of the summer of 1940.

Siaudine was occupied by the Germans on the first day of their attack on the Soviet Union (22 June 1941). The town was part of a 25km strip along the border whose Jews were marked for immediate annihilation. The men were slaughtered on July 6, 11 Tamuz 5701. The women and children were murdered at the end of July and buried in a large pit on the bank of the Neman river near the town. The site is known, but no monument has been set.

Vabalninkas

In Jewish sources: Vabolnik.

A small town in the district of Birzai, north-eastern Lithuania.

During World War 1, the Jews of Vabolnik were exiled into central Russia and their possessions looted by the Cossacks. A number of Jews returned after the war. In a census of 1921 there were 180 Jews in the town. Later their number increased.

There was a line of officiating rabbis, and a prayer-house and elementary school were built. The last rabbi of Vabolnik was Rabbi Yehuda Leib bar Abraham Fahrer.

The Jews of Vabolnik made a living from small trade and agriculture; there were also some artisans among them. The Jewish local bank had 119 members.

Before World War 2 there were about 600 Jews in Vabolnik.


The Holocaust period

After the outbreak of World War 2 (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the soviet union.

On June 27, 1941, five days after the German attack on Russia, the German army took the town. Immediately organized gangs of nationalistic Lithuanians began to harass the Jews and to loot their possessions. They arrested all the Jews suspected of having been active in the soviet government and murdered them in the nearby small town of Kupiskis. In the middle of July the Jews were ordered to leave their houses and transfer to a street formerly inhabited by the poor of the town (who now took possession of the empty Jewish houses), which became a ghetto and was guarded by armed Lithuanians. Refugees from the surrounding small towns also were put into the ghetto and the number of its inhabitants reached 600 again. Every day Jews from the ghetto were taken for forced labor in the town.

On august 18, 1941 the Jews were ordered to provide themselves with food for three days and gather in the prayer house. After they were stripped of all their valuables they were put on lorries and taken to the small town of Pasvalys. The Jews who were taken there the next day, a market day, saw their belongings put up for sale.

About 40 Jews who were imprisoned in the elementary school escaped from there on the initiative of a couple, Sheine and Hayim Gertler, both teachers, who persuaded one of the Lithuanian guards, a teacher himself, to turn a blind eye to the escape. Only three of the 40 survived the war.

The Jews of Vabolnik and other small towns were kept in Pasvalys until August 26. Then they were put on lorries and taken to a forest 4 km out of the town and there shot to death. In a mass grave there are buried the remains of 1,349 Jewish men, women and children.

After the war survivors of the community built a memorial there.

Pikeliai

In Jewish sources Pikelen

A small town in the Mazeikiai district, north-western Lithuania.

Pikeliai had four streets beginning in the market place in the center of the town. In 1897 there were 1,206 Jews in the town, 68% of the general population. Due to emigration the number of the Jews decreased at the beginning of the 20th century. When World War I (1914-1918) broke out the Jews of Pikelen were expelled; most of them did not return after the war. In 1921 there were only 286 Jews there and their number steadily decreased.

There were two prayer houses, a yeshiva, several hadarim and a library in Pikelen. The community had its charitable institutions and a fund for the needy. At the end of the 19th century Rabbi Yacob Wilzik who wrote D'latot Tschuva officiated in Pikelen. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Israel Farber.

The Jews of Pikelen made a living from small trade, peddling and artisanship; there were a few great flour merchants among them. Jews owned a soap factory, flour mills, a saw mill and two inns. The Jewish bank had 87 members.

Prior to World War II there were about 50 Jewish families in Pikelen.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

When the Germans attacked Soviet Russia on June 22, 1941 the nationalistic Lithuanians took over the town, even before the Germans reached it. After a number of weeks of persecution, the Lithuanians, under German auspices, took all the local Jews to Mazeikiai and put them into large granges which became the central concentration place for the Jews of the region. On August 9, 1941 all the Jews were murdered and buried in a mass grave.

After the war a memorial stone was set on the site of the grave.

Plateliai

In Jewish sources Plotel

A small town in the Kretinga district, north-west Lithuania.

The town is situated on the banks of the Plateliai lake. In 1897 171 Jews lived in the town, 28% of the total population. In 1914 there were 30 Jewish families in Plateliai. In 1915 during World War I (1914-1918) the Jews were exiled from Plateliai; not all of them returned after the war.

There was only a prayer house in the town. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi L. A. Salanz.

The Plateliai Jews made a meager living from small trade, peddling and fishing. There was one weekly market day in the town and several yearly fairs. Most of the Jewish families had small farm lots next to their houses. Because of their poverty and of the great fire which broke out in the town in 1923, a number of Jews emigrated to South Africa.

Prior to World War II there were only 18 Jewish families in Plateliai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union. With the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) nationalistic Lithuanians took over the town and formed an executive committee. When the Germans entered the town about 30 young Jewish men were arrested, murdered and buried in sandpits near the town. A few days later the old, the women and the children were taken to the Giruliai forest, about 3 km from the town, murdered and buried in a mass grave.

Virbalis

A small town in the Vilkoviskis district, south eastern Lithuania.

Virbaln is situated on the railway lines Berlin-St. Petersburg near the small town of Kibart (Kybartai) near the former German border, the region on the Baltic coast which was east Prussia until the end of World War II.
 

The Jewish community of Virbaln was known for its sages. Hebrew was the language spoken there. In the newspaper Hamelitz from 1884 Hebrew Virbaln is mentioned.

In 1897 there were 1,719 Jews in Virbaln. Already before World War I there existed a heder metukan, a modern heder and a Talmud torah for the poor, also an elementary school of the tarbuth network and a Hebrew kindergarten.

Virbaln's closeness to Prussia brought it under the influence of the western movement of enlightenment, and it was the first Lithuanian community to have Jewish-national activities. Although the authorities forbade it there were signs in Hebrew over the shops.

During World War I many Jewish refugees came to Virblan and immediately a Committee for the Refugees was formed; it sheltered them and found work for them according to their profession. The refugees integrated into the community and stayed in Virblan after the war. The writer S. L. Gordon worked as a teacher in Virbaln to the pride of its Jewish inhabitants. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Yizhak-Isik Hirshovitz; he perished with his community during the Holocaust. There were the usual charitable institutions in the community.

During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) a Hebrew high school (gymnasium) was founded in Virbaln and became famous in all of Lithuania; it became the model for similar educational institutions where a Hebrew speaking, Eretz Israel oriented generation was shaped.

Until World War I the economic situation of the Virbaln Jews was steady. The greatest number of them made a living from trade with Germany and in services connected with the frontier. After the war when Lithuania was severed from Russia and became independent (1918-1940), Virbaln dwindled into a small border town; its trade and number of inhabitants decreased. In 1921 there were 1,223 Jews in Virbaln, 30% of the general population.

Virbaln's trade with Germany was based mainly on export of agricultural produce and import of industrial goods (tissue, machines, chemicals etc.) Jews also made a living from agriculture; they leased orchards and dealt in wheat. The women kept shops or taverns. Jacov Filipovsky had a modern nursery which was famous all over the country. Eliahu Kosciovsky brought the chicory plant to Lithuania and built a factory for its drying. All the local industry was in Jewish hands. The local Jewish bank had 342 members.

Between the two world wars there was a busy public life in Virbaln, revolving around Zionism. There were branches of all the Zionist parties in the town as well as youth movements and sport organizations, also a library and drama circle. The Jewish agricultural farms served as training camps (hachshara) for pioneers before their Aliyah to Eretz Israel. Near the town a training farm was erected and it was named kibbush (conquest).

In 1939 there were about 2,000 Jews in Virbaln.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On the morrow of the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1940) the Germans entered Virbaln and were welcomed with flowers by the Lithuanians. The Germans liberated all the prisoners who had been accused of anti-communist activities. Immediately the local nationalistic Lithuanians organized, led by the physician Zobritzkas from Kibart who had been in a Soviet prison; they banded together in order to avenge themselves on communist sympathizers and Jews and to help the Germans to keep order in the town.

During the first days of the conquest the German army ruled the town and behaved decently towards the Jews, even helping them to recover belonging looted by the nationalistic Lithuanians.

After a few days civilian rule was established and edicts their public functions, ordered to deliver their arms and radios; a curfew was imposed upon them, they were forbidden to communicate with the local population and had to wear a yellow patch. The patch was later changed to a yellow star of David in all Lithuania.

At this time Jews still worked in German services and Jewish women served as interpreters.

Virbaln was situated in the 25 km belt along the German border, where the gestapo had ordered a systematic extermination of all the Jewish population.

In the night of July 7, 1941 armed Lithuanians evacuated all Jewish men from the age of 16 and up from their houses and imprisoned them in a cellar north of the town. On July 9 the men of Kibart were brought there too and on July 10, 1941 all were murdered in a field north of Virbaln after they had been forced to deepen trenches against tanks which the Russians had built. Their bodies were buried in them.

Later a ghetto was designated in a number of streets without inhabitants; the women and children were taken there together with the women and children from the Kibart community. At their head stood the dentist Dr. Sheine Foijinsky. She was the only dentist in the town and had good relations with the local Lithuanian government. One single food shop served all the ghetto, thanks to an honest Lithuanian food merchant.

Young women and youth aged 12-16 went out to work in the town and its vicinity. A work exchange was instituted where the Lithuanians chose their Jewish workers day by day. There were Lithuanians who maltreated their Jewish workers but others treated the Jews with kindness and some even hid them till the end of the war.

At the end of July 1941, during the night, all the Jews who were not on the working force were taken out of the ghetto. The Germans and their Lithuanian henchmen brought them to the anti-tank trenches, murdered and buried them there.

During the following week the Lithuanians spread rumors that the Jews remaining still in the ghetto would join those members of their families who had been taken away. Lithuanians ostensibly brought greetings and took food and other things for the absent ones and in this way got hold of all the food and belongings the Jews had prepared for their imagined transfer.

On September 11, 1941 Lithuanians with carts entered the ghetto and took all the woman and children to the field of the trenches where they murdered and buried them.


Of the Virbaln community only those few Jews survived who had found shelter with the Lithuanians. Memorials were built over the three mass graves; they had inscriptions in Russian and Lithuanian and a Magen David.

 

Ezerneai Zarasai

A district town, north eastern Lithuania.

Zarasai, surrounded by lakes and forest was founded in the 15th century on the site of a Carmelite monastery. In the 17th century it became a battle field in the war between the Swedes and the Polish-Lithuanian armies. When Poland was divided for the third time in 1795, the town was annexed by Russia. In 1836 and until 1915 its name was Novo Aleksandrovsk. Between the two world wars, during the time of Lithuanian independence, the town was located on the Lithuanian-Polish-Latvian border. In the years 1918-1929 it was called by its old name Ezerneai and since then Zarasai. The Jews continued to call it Ezerneai.

Jewish settlement in Zarasai began in the days of Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825). In 1847 there were 453 Jews in the town. With the economical development of the town the number grew and in 1897 reached 3,348 (53% of the general population).

Before World War I there were about 2,500 people in the community. During the war many Jews left the town and moved into the interior of Russia, only a few of them returned. After the war, the community numbered 1,329 Jews.

In independent Lithuania, the town was cut off from its hinterland and lost its importance; the general population dwindled from 9,000 (before the war) to 4,200.

The community had six prayer-houses, one big synagogue: the "shul" was built in 1858, a "shtibel" of the hasidim called "the red minyan", the green hasidic building, a study-house, "le ragley ha"har" and the study house of the tailors built in 1895. A rabbi and two ritual slaughterers officiated in the town. The last rabbi of the community was Rabbi Eliahu Reznik.

In the second decade of the 20th century there were eight "hadarim and yeshivoth" in the town. During the period of Lithuanian independence a tarbuth (culture) school was added. Many Jewish children studied in the Lithuanian high school.

Among the Jewish communal institutions there were a hospital, an old-age home linath zedek, a lending institution gemiluth hasadim and study-goups for gemara and mishna. A number of schools was subsidized by the community. A Zionist library and a drama circle existed in the town.

Before World War I, the Jews traded in corn, flax, fodder and bristles; they were busy in small commerce, in peddling and transportation. There were many Jewish artisans (tailors, shoemakers, makers of house shoes) and fishermen. Tuesdays and Fridays were market days. On Sundays there were also business dealings with the peasants who came to church. Twice a year big fairs were held in the town. The Jewish merchants also dealt with the Polish nobility of the region and furnished agricultural produce to the towns of Vilna, Dvinsk and Riga.

After World War I, when the Baltic countries became independent, Zarasai was separated from its markets. The economic state of the town worsened and in consequence its Jewish population dwindled. In 1937 there were 89 Jewish tradesmen in the town (25 tailors, 12 shoemakers, 11 butchers, 8 metal workers, 6 bakers, 3 watchmakers, 1 carpenter, 1 smith and 16 others). 4 families worked in agriculture and the rest in commerce. A factory of matches, a beer brewery and two flour mills belonged to Jews. The Jewish population bank, founded in 1920, had 345 members in 1923.

There were branches of the Zionist parties, of the youth movements, and of the sport associations and a branch of hehalutz hadati in the town.

In 1941 there were 1,500 Jews in Zarasai.

The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union. When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Russian army retreated and many refugees, mostly Jews fled east. Jews from Zarasai also tried to escape, but the Lithuanians ambushed and shot those on their way to Russia. In the town armed nationalistic Lithuanians organized pogroms against the Jews.

Leaders of this group were a teacher and the former head of the secret police. From the first day of the conquest the Jews were victims of brutality and killings. Those Lithuanians later joined the auxiliary police force organized by the Germans. After all the Baltic countries had been conquered and Lithuania became part of the Ostland, the German authorities issued orders in the spirit of the Nazi racial laws.

On August 26, 1941 German soldiers accompanied by Lithuanian police entered the town, put the members of the Jewish community on carts, ostensibly to transfer them to Rokiskis. About 15 kilometers from the town of Utena, the Jews were taken out of the carts, surrounded by police and told to undress. When the Jews realized that they were standing by open trenches, panic broke out among them; but there was no chance of escape and all the Jews of Zarasai perished under the rain of bullets from machine guns.

After the war the Jewish community did not revive. The surviving members set a memorial stone in memory of the murdered Jews (about 8000) of Zarasai.

Tytuvenai

In Jewish sources: Tsytovian

A small town in the Raseiniai district, central Lithuania.

Tytuvenai is situated in a region of forests and is a holiday and health resort. Before World War I (1914-1918) about 60 Jewish families lived there. In 1915, during the war, the Jews were exiled from the town into the interior of Russia and not all of them returned; many emigrated to South Africa or the USA.

There was a synagogue and a prayer house in the town. The children learned in a heder and continued their studies in the neighboring small towns. There existed a local library. A women's Agudat Esra (charitable institution) was active in the town. The cemetery of the Siluva community who was close served the Jews of Tytuvenai too.

Rabbi Leib Zigler from Kelm, known as Rabbi Leib Hassid lived in the town, as well as Rabbi Shlomo Yakov Shein who wrote Avnei Shaish. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Avraham Azriel Madin.

Before World War I most of the Tytuvenai Jews made a living from agriculture; some were shopkeepers, peddlers or artisans. During the summer the hundreds of visitors were an important source of income. The Jewish physician Dr. Shapira was known for his medical treatment of the summer guests. A large saw mill belonging to the Jewish Kaminitz family employed mostly non Jewish workers.

In independent Lithuania between the two world wars, a branch of the Jewish bank opened in the town and it played an important role in the economic life of Tytuvenai.

During the period of Lithuania's independence a number of Jews went to Eretz Israel.

Prior to World War II there were about 50 Jewish families in Tytuvenai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

On June 23, 1941, on the morrow of the German attack on the Soviet Union the Germans entered Tytuvenai. Nationalistic Lithuanians organized under German patronage to take over the town and began with anti-Jewish activities. Orders were published restricting Jewish life. They were exposed to abuse by Lithuanians in the streets and in their homes. Already during the first days a number of Jews were murdered and buried in a nearby forest. The Jewish men were sent on forced labor every morning.

The SS men who arrived in Tytuvenai burnt all the holy writings and the rabbi's library. Later the Lithuanians arrested Rabbi Madin and a group of Jewish men, transferred them to Rasiniai and there murdered them.

On August 12, 1941 all the Jews were taken from their homes and driven in lorries to the nearby forest, there they were murdered and buried. Only a few succeeded in escaping. 140 Jews, men, women and children are buried in a mass grave.

Žasliai 

A small town in the Trakai district, south-eastern Lithuania, Soviet Union. In 1918-1940 in independent Lithuania.

Zasliai, surrounded by three lakes was situated about 4 km from a railway station of the Kovno-Vilna train. In 1847 there were 836 Jews in the town; in 1897 1,325 out of a population of 2,000. The Jews lived in their own quarters as did the Lithuanians, Russians and Poles of the town.

In the town there were two big prayer houses, a Hebrew school of the tarbuth network, two hadarim and a library. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Moshe Levin.

Most of the local Jews made a living from small trade, peddling and artisanship. There were Jewish tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, barbers, butchers, smiths and watchmakers. Tuesday was market day and in its frame the Jews developed a wholesale trade; according to the seasons they bought the entire crop from from the peasants and sold it wholesale to Kovno or exported it to Germany and Russia. The Jewish traders in wood, wheat and fowl who used the railway went to live near it and soon a new Jewish quarter arose near the train station of Zasliai.

Even though, many Jews emigrated overseas and a great number of local Jews were helped by them. The voluntary fireguard was financed by Zasliai Jews in the USA.

Between the two world wars branches of the Zionist, the Revisonists and Mizrachi. The youth organization Maccabi was also active. Many of the young people received agricultural training and went as Halutzim to the kibbutzs and settlements of Eretz-Israel.

Before World War II about 1,000 Jews lived in Zasliai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Already during the first days after the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941), Germans appeared in the village. The Jews who tried to escape into Soviet Russia were forced to return to Zasliai. When the Soviets retreated the town was taken over by local bands of nationalistic Lithuanians. Their first action was to arrest whoever was considered sympathetic to the soviets. The Jews among them were taken to the sympathetic town of Kaisiadorys and nothing is known about their fate. The Jews remaining in Zasliai were forbidden to leave their houses and they were forced to obtain food through the good offices of their Lithuanian neighbors and pay heavily for it. Every day Jews were sent for forced labor, both heavy and degrading. At night Lithuanians burst into their homes, looted their belongings and submitted them to harassment.

On August 17, 1941, in the middle of the night all the Jewish men and a number of Jewish women were taken to Kaisiadorys; there they were kept imprisoned until August 26 when they were taken to a nearby forest and murdered. They were interred in a mass grave on the spot.

The remainder of the Zasliai Jews were taken to the town of Semeliskes and there on October 6, 1941 they were murdered together with the Jews of the environs.

Three Jewish women and two children who hid with the Lithuanian peasants survived the war.

Vandziogala

A small town in the district of Kovno, Lithuania.

Vandziogala is situated 24 km from Kovno. Little is known of the beginning of the local Jewish settlement in the 17th century. Before World War I the Jews constituted 95% of the general population of the small town. In 1915 during the war most of the Jews left for Vilna and its environs.

When Vilna was taken by the Germans the Jews returned to Vandziogala. In 1921 there were 252 Jews in the town; although their number grew so did the number of the local Christians and the Jews stopped being a majority.

The Jewish community had a synagogue, a prayer-house and a number of hadarim. During the period of Lithuania's independence between the two world wars a Hebrew school of the tarbut network was opened. The outstanding pupils of the heder continued at the yeshivoth of Kovno and the pupils of the Hebrew school continued at the Hebrew Real-Gymnasiu in Kovno.

Among the rabbis of the town Rabbi Yehoshua Zvi Rabinovitz went to Eretz Israel in his old age and died in Jerusalem.

His sons, born in Vandziogala also were local rabbis. The last rabbi was Rabbi Hayim Bar-Nahum Yehuda Klibanov.

Already in the eighties of the 19th century local Jews emigrated to the USA. Emigration grew before World War I and during the period of Lithuania's independence. Many Jews went to Eretz Israel.

Most of the local Jews made a living from trade and crafts, a few from occasional work. Nearly every Jewish house had a large vegetable garden which supplied the needs of the family.

The "country Jews" who lived among the gentile peasants and made a living in the neighboring villages also belonged to the Vandziogala community.

Every Wednesday was market day and there were four yearly fairs which were visited by the peasants of the whole region.

Two tanneries belonged to Jews, also two workshops for the fabrication of felt and house shoes, a dying workshop for wood and cloth in which 12 workers were employed.

In 1939 there were 400 Jews in the town.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Two days after the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) the Germans entered Vandziogala. Immediately orders use the sidewalks as well as public vehicles and had to wear a yellow patch. Their houses and shops had signs Jude (Jew) painted on them by the local Lithuanians, the henchmen of the Germans. Jews were taken for forced labor and Jewish girls for work in Lithuanian houses.

On July 8 35 young Jewish men and 3 women were arrested on suspicion of communism. They were marched through the streets of the town by drunk Lithuanians who put a red flag in their hands and finally taken to the Jewish cemetery. A group of older Jews, most of them the parents of the accused had been brought there beforehand and ordered to dig pits. The young people were shot to death before the eyes of their parents and buried in these pits and later the older Jews were murdered also.

On Shabbat (August 9, 1941) the synagogue was surrounded during prayers by the Lithuanians who did the work for the Germans. They evacuated all the Jews including the old rabbi from the synagogue and brought them in carts to the town of Babtai, about 12 km from Vandziogala. There they were kept in the synagogue for about two weeks and then shot to death in a nearby forest. Out of the 15 men who succeeded in escaping some reached the Kovno ghetto and others were caught and killed.

On August 28 the remaining Jews were assembled in the market place. Most of them were women and children. They were taken to Babtai and shot to death in the same killing fields as the others and buried in a mass grave.

The Vadziogal synagogue was used as a cowshed by the Lithuanians and they used the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery for paving the sidewalks. The possessions of the local Jews were sold at a public auction.

From all the Vandziogala Jews only seven survived, three of them joined the partisans.

Luokė

 In Jewish sources: Lukenik

A small town in the district of Telsiai, north western Lithuania.


The Jews lived in Lukenik already in the 18th century; in 1766 there were 566 Jews there, in 1847 949 and in 1897 about 200 Jewish families, 798 persons in a general population of 1,626.

After World War I (1914-1918) the number of Jews in the town decreased and in 1921 there were only 542 Jews in Lukenik. The local Jews emigrated to South Africa, the USA and a number of them went to Eretz Israel.

The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Shlomo Efraim Kravitzki.

Prior to World War II there were about 100 Jewish families in Lukenik.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

When the Germans attacked Soviet Russia most of the Jews fled into the nearby villages. Nationalistic Lithuanians were waiting for the German conquerors, wearing ribbons in the national colors of Lithuania. On June 25 the Germans entered the town and authorized the Lithuanians to be responsible for the treatment of the Jews, most of whom had returned from the villages. The Jews were taken for hard and humiliating labors, being harassed by their Lithuanian guards. The rabbi of the community, Rabbi Kravitzki was taken to the forest, tortured and humiliated, half of his beard was cut off. The Lithuanian committee for the treatment of Jews fined the community the sum of fifty thousand rubles and until this fine was paid three Jews were kept imprisoned as hostages.

A few days after the conquest all the Jews were assembled in the market place; a guard of armed Lithuanians transferred them to an estate about 2 km from the town. There they were accommodated in granges, taken every day for forced labor while being molested by the Lithuanians. The Jews were forbidden to communicate with the gentile population and given neither food nor water. A guard put by the well prevented the Jews from drawing water and they were forced to use water from the moors. On July 15 two SS men arrived at the estate; they ordered the Lithuanian guards to collect all the valuables from the Jews and to beat the men. That night all the men were ostensibly taken to work and shot to death 5 km from the grange. On July 16 in the morning the women and children were taken to the camp Giruliai where the women and children from Telz were already accommodated. On August 30, 1941 most of them were murdered and the rest taken to Rajniai near Telz and murdered there on December 24, 1941.

Seirijai

Russian: Серее / Сейрияй / Sereye; Yiddish:  סעריי/ Serei; Polish: Sereje

A small town in Alytus district, southern Lithuania.

 

HISTORY

The first Jewish community in Seirijai probably originated in the early 18th century. Most worked in trade, agriculture, and fishing. Some owned large farms, while others made a living from commerce in grains.

The synagogue was built in 1726. In addition to hosting services, it also functioned as a beit midrash. The synagogue grounds also included a small prayer house and a ritual bath. More community institutions were established during the 19th century, including charity organizations and educational institutions for the community’s children that taught both religious and secular subjects. Records indicate that the community supported Zionist causes and donated to support Jewish settlement in Palestine; the community would continue to contribute to Zionist causes through the first decade of the 20th century.

In 1856 the Jewish community included 1,492 people out of a total population of 2,138. By 1897 that number had grown to 1,614 (over 50% of the town’s total population of 2,664). However, economic difficulties towards the end of the 19th century led to the immigration of many of the town’s Jews to England and the United States.

The early years of the 20th century saw the outbreak of a number of fires in Seirijai. Because most of the buildings were made of wood, these fires ultimately resulted in the destruction of approximately 50% of the town. The community rebuilt, however, and in 1914 the local Jewish population reached approximately 1,800.

During World War I (1914-1918), the Jews of Seirijai were exiled into Russia in April 1915 as Germany advanced into Lithuania. Approximately 50% of the Jewish community retuned to the town after the war, and following Lithuanian independence in 1919 the Jews were granted autonomy under the law relating to minorities. A community committee was set up to deal with all aspects of communal life, including the collection of taxes. This autonomy was eventually annulled at the end of 1925, after which the committee was no longer active.

Most of the town’s Jews worked in commerce, crafts, the light industry, agriculture, and fishing during the interwar period.  The local bank had 176 Jewish account holders in 1927, and in 1931 members of the community owned 29 of the 30 shops in the town.

Community institutions included the synagogue, a Tarbut elementary school, a Talmud Torah, and branches of various Zionist organizations, including the Maccabi sports organization, Wizo, and HaPoel.  

The 1930s proved to be a difficult decade for Sierjai’s Jews. The local authorities and the Catholic Church confiscated Jewish land and closed of most of the Jewish-owned shops; as a result, only two shops remained in operation in 1936. Because of these anti-Jewish measures, many immigrated to the United States, Mexico, and South Africa, with a smaller number of younger people immigrating to Palestine. 

 

THE HOLOCAUST

After the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945) in September 1939, Lithuania came under Soviet control and was annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of the summer of 1940. Factories and shops belonging to the town’s Jews were nationalized, which resulted in shortages and higher prices. Many residents suffered from a dramatic drop in the standard of living. Hebrew schools and Zionist organizations were closed by the Soviet authorities, and several activists were detained.

In the wake of the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, Lithuania was invaded by Germany. Seirijai was heavily bombed and many Jewish houses were destroyed.  After the Nazis occupied Sierjai, the local Lithuanians started to persecute the Jews. A number of Jewish youths were detained as communists and later shot. Another group was transported in a cart belonging to one of the town’s older Jewish residents, ostensibly for work, but they were killed together with the cart owner.

The remaining Jews were taken daily for forced labor. However, since they did not suffer from food shortages, word spread to Kovno Jews that the situation in Seirijai was somewhat better. As a result, a number of Jews from Kovno left their homes and paid local Lithuanians to transport them to Seirijai.

On September 10, 1941 (18 Elul), the men were taken to a site located about 2 miles (3 km). from the town. They were ordered to dig pits, and were then shot. The following day, the same was done to the women and children.  In total, 229 men, 384 women, and 340 children are buried in the mass grave.

 

POSTWAR

The Jewish community was not renewed after the war.

A small number of survivors erected a monument in the field where the mass grave is located. The monument’s inscription was replaced in the 1990s and reads in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “Here was spilled the blood of 953 Jews-children, women, men-who were brutally murdered by the Nazi murderers and their helpers on 9/11/1941."

 

Akmenė

Yiddish: אַקמעיאַן, Akmian

A city in northern Lithuania

HISTORY

Jews began settling in Akmene during the mid-18th century, and by 1874 there were 667 Jews living in the city. In 1897 the Jewish population was 543, out of a total population of 1,501 (36% of the total population).

Many of the local Jews left Akmene during World War I (1914-1918) for the Russian interior.

A substantial number of Jews from Akmene emigrated from the city during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to Ireland. Dublin had a number of Jews from Akmene. Other Jewish immigrants from Akmene may have purchased the Kilmurray Cemetery, in Castleroy, County Limerick.  

Community institutions during the interwar period included a prayer house. There was also a community rabbi. The last rabbi to serve the Jewish community of Akmene was Rabbi Nachum Mordechai Verbovsky.

Most of the city’s Jews worked in the retail trade or in other types of trade, and in agriculture.

In 1921 there were 150 Jews living in Akmene. On the eve of World War II (1939-1945) there were 25 Jewish families living in Akmene (about 100 people).


THE HOLOCAUST

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939), Lithuania came under Soviet rule. It was annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of the summer of 1940. However, a few days after the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), the German army invaded Akmene. The Einsatzgruppen, who accompanied the army in order to murder the Jews living in the conquered areas, were helped by the local Lithuanian nationalists. Immediately after the occupation, all of Akmene’s Jews were arrested and became victims of persecution and violence perpetrated by the Lithuanian guards. During the first week of July 1941 the Germans shot and killed three Jewish men.

On August 4, 1941 the remaining members of the community were taken to the town of Mazeikiai and confined in granges near the river. The men were taken daily for forced labor digging trenches. On August 9, 1941the Jews of Akmene, together with the Jews of Mazeikiai, were murdered and buried in those trenches.

 

POSTWAR

After the war, a memorial made of black marble was erected on the site of the mass grave.

In 1958, one of the Lithuanian nationalists who took the Jews from Akmene to Mazeikiai was tried for his involvement in the mass murder.

Barstyčiai

Yiddish: ספּרעדערז (Barshtitz); Russian: Барстичяй (Barstichyay); Polish: Barszczyce

A small town in the Klaipėda county, north-western Lithuania.
 

21ST CENTURY

“The Litvaks: A Short History of the Jews in Lithuania” by Dov Levin (2001) describes Lithuania as the center of the great yeshivot of Jewish study and nationalistic movements such as Hovevei Zion, the Bund and the Mizrachi. The period between the two world wars, saw the establishment of a modern Hebrew Zionist educational system. A bibliography in seven languages is a special feature of this volume.

Barstyčiai had a population of 659 people in the 2001 census.

 

HISTORY

In 1921 there were 87 Jews in Barstyčiai. A few made a meager living from agriculture. Most of the Jews left for The Land of Israel.
 

THE HOLOCAUST

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

15 Jewish families lived in Barstyčiai in 1941. A few days after the German attack on USSR (June 22, 1941) the Germans took the town.

According to Lithuanian Soviet sources, nationalistic Lithuanians murdered 13 families in 1941. Although there is no exact documentation, it is generally assumed that those were Jewish families. It is also possible that the Barstyčiai Jews were taken either to Ylakiai or Mazeikiai where the Jews of the region were concentrated and murdered on August 9, 1941.

Telsiai

In Jewish sources Telz

District town in north-eastern Lithuania.

One of the oldest towns in Lithuania, already documented in the 14th century, but achieving official town status only in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 18th century the inhabitants suffered from the Swedish invasion and from epidemics following the wars. In the middle of the 19th century the town suffered again, this time from the Polish uprising against Tsarist Russia. After the division of Poland in 1795 the region came under Tsarist rule while before that Lithuania had been part of the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom. During World War I (1914-1918) in 1915 the town and region were conquered by the Germans. In addition to the ills of war, two great fires ravaged the town at the beginning of the 20th century.

There is no documentation of the Telz Jewish community at its beginning. In 1847 there were 2,248 Jews there and in 1897 there were 3,088. When the Jews were exiled during World War I their number decreased and in 1923 there were only 1,545 Jews in the town, but their number again increased.

The Jews of Telz made a living from the trade in grain and wood; there were also artisans among them. The study-houses and the great yeshiva which attracted pupils from all over Lithuania furnished a livelihood for many Jews.

Study-house, the tailor's study-house, the soldiers' study-house and the butchers study-house. The center of the Jewish community was the Telz yeshiva, one of the largest and most famous in Lithuania in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. Next to the yeshiva there was a preparatory school and an institution for children. There was also a hostel for yeshiva students.

The religious educational institutions left their impressions on the life of the community which became a citadel of orthodox Jewry and fought against any change in tradition.

In the 1880s a Jewish-Russian school was opened, managed by the writer Yehuda Leib Gordon (Yalag). The orthodox Jews were against the school and put many obstacles in Gordon's way. During the six years he spent in Telz there was an unceasing war between him and the orthodox Jews. This found expression in Gordon's satirical writings.

After World War I the community re-established itself in the center of traditional Jewry and as the focal point of Agudath Israel; the newspapers of Agudath Israel, Haneeman and Der Yiddischer Leben issued in Telz.

The charitable institutions of the community were famous; they encompassed all aspects of life, from burial society to a hospital headed by Dr. Menuhin.

Rabbi Shimon Berman who officiated at the beginning of the 20th century was famous for his exegesis. The last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Abraham Yizhak Bloch.

In independent Lithuania btween the two world wars the community had two teachers' seminaries of the yavne network, one for male teachers and one for female teachers, and a gymnasium for girls, also of the yavne network. The orthodox youth were organized in Tiferet Bahurim.

In the period between the two world wars Zionist activities started in Telz, branches of Hamizrachi, of the revisionist Zionists, the socialistic Zionists, Maccabi and Zeirei Zion were opened. The opening of a tarbuth (culture) school was prevented by the authorities.

The Bund, a Jewish socialist non-Zionist organization was active till 1920; a number of its members joined the communists and the underground movements.

Prior to World War II there were about 2,800 Jews in Telz, out of a general population of 8,000.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Jewish refugees from Nazi-occupied Poland streamed into Telz and in 1941 its Jewish population numbered about 3,000.

The Jewish institutions were closed down and all Jewish public and Zionist activities ceased. The religious schools and the great yeshiva were also closed down. The building of the yeshiva was used as a hospital by the soldiers of the Red Army. The heads of the yeshiva continued to teach in spite of everything until they decided to save the yeshiva by transferring it out of Lithuania. Two of head teachers emigrated to the USA and a yeshiva was founded in Cleveland which continues the tradition of the great Telz yeshiva.

After the Germans attacked the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), Telz was bombed by the Germans; the retreating Soviet army fired its own arms arsenals. One of those was located in the prayer house and when the Jews saw the fire, they endangered their own lives in order to save the torah scrolls which they hid in a cellar.

Gangs of nationalistic Lithuanians who had taken over the town after the Soviet retreat found the torah scrolls and desecrated them. They also harassed the Jews, beat them, looted their possessions and imprisoned a number of them.

The Germans entered Telz on June 25 and the imprisoned Jews were freed. But on the next day the nationalistic Lithuanians arrested about 200 Jewish men and kept them in jail without food or water.

On Friday, June 26 the Germans and their Lithuanian henchmen assembled all the Jews in the market place; beating and abusing them all the way took them to the lake of Mastis near the town. There the Lithuanians accused the Jews of all the Soviets deeds in the town including the murder of 72 Lithuanians, political prisoners. The Lithuanians demanded that the rabbi send out messengers to the rests of the Red Army in the forests and persuade them to surrender. The Jews pled that they were not responsible for deeds of the Soviet authorities and had suffered themselves from them; their pleas were totally rejected. When the Jewish women and children were told to return to their homes and leave only the men they knew that their last hour had arrived. Rabbi Bloch gathered the community around him and led them in the last prayers. When darkness fell, the families were forcibly separated. The women and children on returning to their homes, found them forced open and looted. At the end of Shabbath the women and children were assembled again and taken to an estate in the Ruiniai forest, about 5 km east of Telz. There they were re- united with their men (apart from 3 men who were shot to death the same night). They were kept in the open for a number of days and then installed in cowsheds and stables, a kind of camp commanded by the Lithuanian Platakis. The Jews who had tried to escape into Russia or to hide in the villages during the first days of the war, were brought to this camp too. Again the families were torn apart, the men separated from the women and children. A committee of the camp was appointed, headed by the rabbi of the community. The committee was responsible for food supplies and order in the camp and through its good offices the families were re- united.

After a short time the grave of the 72 Lihuanian political prisoners (of whose death the Jews had been accused) were found in the forest. The Jews were ordered to exhume the corpses from the mass grave and rebury them in a decent way. The Jewish men did this while being tortured and humiliated by the Lithuanians; the women were sent on forced labour in the town.

On July 14 a German soldier holding an unsheated sword assembled all the men and cut off their beards inaugurating thus a series of torture and humiliation which lasted several hours. On the morrow the Germans and their Lithuanian henchmen began the systematical murder of the Jewish men. Inside a few days they murdered all of them and buried them in a shallow mass grave. The rabbi of the community Rabbi Avraham Yizhak Bloch was murdered after having been tortured. An epidemic broke out because of the rotting bodies in their shallow grave and many women and children died of it. It was decided to transfer the women and children to the estate of Geruliai, about 10 km east of Telz, a centre for Jews mostly women and children, the survivors of the mass killings in Riniai and Viesovenai, about 4,000 persons.

As it was harvest time, the Germans allowed the Lithuanian farmers to use young Jewish women for work in the fields. Some of the women made friends with the farmers and later hid with them. A committee of women ran the camp under most difficult conditions, without a steady food supply, without medicaments for the daily increasing number of sick people. Pleas for help to the Lithuanian Bishop and the district physician only hastened their end. At the end of August 1941, 600 young women were taken out from the camp, the rest were brought to the Riniai forest and murdered there.

The young women were returned to Telz and accomodated in the ruined houses of the poor of the town (who now were living in the houses of the Jews). They tried to work for a living and begged for food from the Lithuanians. At the end of December 1941 the women were taken to the killing fields in the Riniai forest and murdered there. Many of them were able to escape; those who were caught were taken to the ghetto in Siauliai; some dozens of women hid in the villages until the end of the war.

Dusetos

Also known as Duseta, Dusetai, Dusetos, Dusetų, Dusiaty, Dustos and Dosiat

A small town in the Zarasai district, north-eastern Lithuania.

Dusiat is situated on the river Sventoji in a region of lakes and forests; it is mentioned in documents from 1530. In the 18th century it was one of the centers of the Polish uprising against Russian rule. In 1918-1940 it was in independent Lithuania.

In the first half of the 16th century there was already a Jewish settlement in Dusiat. In 1847 there were 486 Jews in the community; in 1894 the Jews constituted 89% of the general population (1,158 souls).

There was a line of well-known rabbis officiating in the community.

During a p0grom in 1905 one Jew was killed and three injured, Jewish shops were looted and Jewish possessions destroyed; the hooligans also desecrated the holy scriptures. A group of Jews who had barricaded themselves in one of the houses, threw stones at the attackers.

A number of fires broke out in the town; in 1910 the old synagogue burnt down and half of the Jewish houses and shops were destroyed in the fire. For this reason the number of Jews decreased and in 1912 there were only 704 Jews living in Dusiat.

Before World War I there were a number of hadarim in the community and among them a heder metukan where secular subjects were also taught. During the period of Lithuanian independence there was a Hebrew elementary school of the tarbut (culture) network and one heder. There were also Hebrew evening classes, a library and a drama circle.

There were the usual charity institutions and a study circle of holy scripture.

Most of the Dusiat Jews made a living from trade, peddling and artisanchip. There were two weekly market days and one yearly fair in the town. Thirty shops were owned by Jews. Jewish peasants worked the land as tenants.

After World War I when new frontiers were drawn up, Dusiat was cut off from its main markets in Dvinsk (then in Latvia and called Daugavpils) and the economic situation of the Jews worsened. For this reason and because of growing antisemitism many Jews left the town; in 1921 there were only about a hundred Jewish families in the town. Most of them were small traders and artisans.

Jews owned two flour mills, an electric power station and a factory for sweets. A branch of a Jewish bank opened in 1924. During the thirties the economic situation worsened again and many Jews left for South Africa and the USA.

The Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair in Dusiat had 80 members and the Jewish sport organization Maccabi fifty members. A few of the young people left for Eretz Israel.

In 1939 there were about 80 Jewish families in Dusiat.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) some Jewish families who had cars fled into Russia. Those who tried to flee on foot were caught by the German army (who conquered Lithuania in a few days) and forced to return to the town.

Already before the German army entered Dusiat Lithuanian hooligans took over the town and declared open season on Jews and their possessions.

When the Germans entered the town the Jews were expelled from their houses and put in a ghetto consisting of a few small houses, sheds and stables close to them. Lithuanians took over the Jewish houses and possessions. The conditions in the ghetto were awful and the overcrowding inhuman. Jewsih men were taken for heavy labor in the town and fields. The guards of the ghetto were Lithuanians and notorious for their cruelty.

On August 26, 1941 all the Jews were taken to the forest of Daugueiai and murdered there. The forest was the site of killing for the Jews of the small towns of the Zarasai district.

A Jewish woman and her two children who managed to escape and reach Kovno was finally murdered with the Jews of the Kovno ghetto.

Daujenai

A village in the Birzai district, northern Lithuania.

In the population census of 1923, 25 Jews were registered in the village. In 1941 only a few Jewish families lived there.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

A short time after the German attack on Russia (June 22, 1941) the German army occupied the region. According to testimonies obtained after the war four Jewish families, 11 souls were murdered in Daujenai after the German conquest.

Vaiguva

A small town in the district of Siauliai, north western Lithuania.

In 1897 there were 193 Jews in the town (in a total population of 530 souls). Before World War I the community grew to the number of about 150 families. During the period of Lithuania's independence (1918-1940) the number of Jews dwindled again and in 1921 there were 250 Jews in Vaiguva.

A beautiful synagogue was erected with the financial help of Rabbi Baruch Feivelson, the croesus of the town who owned a local estate. Hershel Marzovilky who changed his name to Zvi-Hermann Shapira and became the founder of Keren Kayemeth Le'Israel as a child studied at the local heder.

There was an unbroken line of rabbis officiating in the community. The last rabbi was Rabbi Moshe Lurie who perished with his community in the Holocaust.

Most of the Vaiguva Jews made a living from trade, only a few from crafts. Jewish tailors worked for the peasants in the villages, staying with them all week and returning to their families only on Shabbat eve.

Before World War II there were about 50 Jewish families in Vaiguva.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Immediately after the German attack on Soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) Jewish refugees from the town of Kelm (Kelmke) arrived in Vaiguva. Armed nationalistic Lithuanians organized and began to act against the Jews; they put themselves at the disposal of the German conquerors. Their first action was to return the Kelm refugees to their hometown.

At the beginning of July the Vaiguva Jews were ordered to leave their houses and to assemble in the synagogue; there they were kept for a number of days without food or water, guarded by armed Lithuanians. At the end of the month the children were forcibly separated from their families; the adults were ostensibly taken to a work camp and the babies and small children were left in the care of two nurses.

The adults were taken to Kelm and murdered together with the Kelm Jews on June 29, 1941.

The children were taken to Zagare and murdered on the next day, on the day of Atonement, October 2, 1941.

Kedainiai

A provincial capital in central Lithuania.

Kedainiai was founded in the 14th century as a fishing village on the shores of the Nevezis and Smilga rivers. Jewish merchants first settled there at the end of the 15th century, invited to do so by the local landowners. More than once the Jews were driven out and later returned when there was a change of rulers. In 1590 Kedainiai was granted the privileges of a free town, its economic conditions improved, and it became a commercial center for the surrounding area. The Jews whose economic activity in the town was of interest to the local rulers, were granted religious freedom and full civil rights by the Polish Prince Radzivill. From the end of the 16th century until the close of the 18th, the Lithuanian principality was part of the Polish kingdom. New Jewish settlers were carefully selected, and were permitted to acquire land and given tax reductions. During the same period, Jewish men of scholarship and learning came to Kedainiai from Germany, and subsequently developed the town's Jewish community into a center of torah and scholarship.

The later princes of the Radzivill dynasty confirmed the privileges of the Jews. The Jews participated in the election of municipal employees, were given military training and organized into military units for times of emergency.

At the time of the decrees of 1648 and 1649 (the Chmielnitzki massacres of 1648), the Jewish community of Kedainiai which was not affected gave assistance to the victims. At the time of the Swedish invasion during the second half of the 17th century many Jews left the town. At the close of the 17th century a great fire broke out in Kedainiai, and at the beginning of the 18th century the town was completely devastated by the Russian and Swedish forces which swept through it during the Northern Wars. When the palace of the Radzivill Princes was also destroyed, the Jewish community was reduced to poverty, and began to recover only in the third decade of the 18th century when it was well-represented on the Lithuanian State Committee. Even after the committee was abolished (1764), meetings of representatives from the Lithuanian communities still took place in the town, the last held in 1782, and many other Jewish communities were under the jurisdiction of the Kedainiai community.

Kedainiai was renowned throughout Lithuania as a center of torah and spiritual learning for the Jewish communities of the region. It was the site of a large yeshiva, many hadarim and study houses, where learning went on both day and night. At the end of the 17th century, all the Jewish communities of Lithuania read the Selihot service composed by Rabbi Yosef of Kobrin, a native of Kedainiai, in memory of the persecuted Jews.

The Gaon, Rabbi Eliahu of Vilna was a student of Rabbi David Katznellenbogen who served as the rabbi of Kedainiai during the first half of the 18th century. The Gaon of Vilna's wife was a native of Kedainiai.

At the end of the 18th century, as a result of the partition of the Kingdom of Poland, Kedainiai came under the rule of Czarist Russia. The Jewish privileges were cancelled. At the start of the 19th century Jews who had been banished from the villages settled in Kedainiai. Approximately 400 Jews perished in a cholera epidemic which broke out in 1807.

Towards the middle of the 19th century, the Jewish community recovered, its economy stabilized, and by 1847 the number of Jewish inhabitants in the town reached 4,987. At the end of the 19th century, at the time of the Jewish emigration from Russia, many left Kedainiai. In 1897 there were 3,733 Jews remaining in the town, 64% of its population. In 1915, during World War I (1914-1918), the Jews of Kedainiai were exiled into the interior of Russia and not all of them returned to the town after the war. The Joint Distribution Committee and overseas relatives helped in the rehabilitation of the Jewish community. In 1923, at the time of Lithuania's independence, there were 2,499 Jews in the town, 33% of its total population.

The Great Synagogue, built at the end of the 18th century, contained an ornate holy ark and a sundial bearing Hebrew letters.

Among the Rabbis of Kedainiai were Rabbi Moshe Margoliot, a commentator of the Jerusalem Talmud. The last rabbi to officiate in the town was Rabbi Shlomo Feinsilber. The community produced many intellectuals and supporters of the haskala (enlightenment) movement, among them the author Moshe-Leib Lillienblum and the historian of literature, Shneur Zakash.

From the end of the 19th century, secular studies were also taught at the local Talmud Torah school. In addition, at the beginning of the 20th century, Hebrew schools of the tarbut network were established, as well as a Jewish high school where the language of instruction was Hebrew. Jewish student’s also studied in the Polish gymnasium established by Prince Radzivill early in the 17th century. In the period between the annexation to Russia and World War I, Jewish students also attended Russian schools.

Weavers and craftsmen from Germany, who had settled in Kedainiai during the 17th century, aided in the development of the town's weaving workshops. In the 19th century this sector was entirely in Jewish hands. In 1648, Prince Radzivill built the first flour mill in Kedainiai, and leased it to Jews. In 1659 he set up a printing press, also managed by Jews, where the Book of Psalms was printed in Lithuanian for the first time, as well as many religious books. Subsequently, both holy and secular books were printed in Hebrew. The last Hebrew book printed there was in 1940.

In the days of the Polish kingdom the Jews leased land and collected taxes for the local rulers. At the end of the 18th century, when Kedainiai came under Russian rule, the Russian garrison in the town served as a source of livelihood for shopkeepers and craftsmen. The railway which was laid by the Russians helped increase the commercial ties with Russia. A flour mill set up by the new town ruler was leased to Jews.

In independent Lithuania, between the two world wars, the Jewish bank stood at the center of the town's economy. The bank, which was founded in 1921, had 360 members in 1929. From the beginning of the 19th century many Jews of Kedainiai (about 80 families) were engaged in growing and marketing vegetables throughout Lithuania. At various times there were commercial establishments in Kedainiai exporting agricultural produce to most European countries.

In the days of independent Lithuania following World War I, the Lithuanian cooperatives, which were supported by the government, began to undercut the Jews. Many Jews emigrated during that time.

The roots of the Zionist movement in Kedainiai go back to the days of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) towards the end of the 19th century. In independent Lithuania the Zionist idea took hold of all the Jews of the town. The Zionist parties and their youth movements were established, and libraries containing many Hebrew books were opened. There was also much activity on behalf of the Zionist funds.

Not far from the town, a farm was set up to prepare young people for emigration to Eretz Israel. The youth in Kedainiai were concentrated mainly in Hashomer Hazair, Gordonia and Betar. Many worked in the training farm and in the 1930’s went to settle in Eretz Israel.

Prior to World War II, 3,000 Jews were living in Kedainiai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of the summer of 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities nationalized private property, business firms and shops which were owned mainly by Jews. Community institutions ceased to function and the Zionist parties and youth organizations were dispersed. The Hebrew educational institutions were also shut down. Economic activity in the town decreased, and the standard of living of the inhabitants in general, and of the Jews in particular, steadily declined. Jewish refugees from Poland, now occupied by the Nazis, found refuge in Kedainiai.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) groups of Lithuanian extreme nationalists were organized. Many Jews who tried to flee with the retreating Soviet forces were shot by the Lithuanians. The Germans entered the town on the 24th of June and immediately issued decrees affecting the Jews. They were required to wear yellow armbands and to turn over their valuables. Night curfew was imposed on them, and all contact and trade with the rest of the population was forbidden.

Jews were taken for forced labor for the Germans. They were treated brutally by their guards, Lithuanian nationalists, who did not hesitate to murder some of them. At first most of the Jews were employed in clearing bombs and mines which the Soviets had left in the local airfield, and many were killed in the process.

On the 23rd of July 200 Jews were shot in the forest 8 km outside of Kedainiai. A few days later the Jews were ordered to leave their homes and move to a ghetto, bounded by several of the town's alleys. All the Jews of the surrounding towns were brought to the ghetto, 3,700 souls in all. The crowding was unbearable, and the food supply soon gave out.

On August 15, 1941 all the Jews of the ghetto were gathered in the courtyard of the synagogue and led to a horse farm, where they were held for 13 days without food. On August 25, 1941 the Jews were taken, group by group, to pits, which had previously been dug behind the catholic cemetery, and slaughtered by machine gun fire. The Germans supervised the massacre which the Lithuanians carried out. Prominent Lithuanian leaders of Kedainiai, the mayor, the principal of the gymnasium and other public figures, were invited to watch the murders as they were carried out. Only a few Jews managed to escape, hid in the forest and joined the partisans.

After the war, a monument was set on the mass graves by Jewish survivors of Kedainiai and of the surrounding communities.

Josvainiai

A small town in the Kedainiai district, central Lithuania.

The town is situated in a valley surrounded on three sides by the river Susve, about 10 km south of the district town Kedainiai. In 1897 there were 534 Jews in Josvainiai; they were all exiled in 1915 during World War I and most of their houses and possessions went up in flames. After the war only a small number of Jews returned and settled in streets close to the market.

The Josvainiai Jews were merchants and artisans; during the summer they all worked as gardeners, growing tomatoes and cucumbers and exporting them to all corners of Lithuania. There were three Jewish innkeepers, two owners of flour mills, one saw-mill, a wood merchant, two ritual slaughterers, two teachers and the owner of a pharmacy. In 1924 a Jewish bank was opened in Josvainiai.

The prayer house, a white brick building rising over the wooden houses of the town was the center of the community. In addition to the prayers and torah studies held there it also housed a cheder; Rabbi Shmuel Aharon Rafaiko taught boys and girls (separately) religious and lay subjects. His predecessor was the teacher Yizhak Anikshet. Religious ceremonies like brith, bar mitzva, weddings and eulogies were held in the prayer-house, as well as religious study cercles.

After World War I a Hebrew elementary school was founded, but the cheder continued by its side. The children of the town continued their studies in the yeshivot of Kedainiai and Kovno. The local library housed 500 books. There was a Bikur Holim, Linat Zedek and free loan society for the needy.

The town had a number of famous rabbis, authors of religious tractates, to name only Rabbis Levinson, Amsterdam, etc. the last officiating rabbi was Rabbi Dov Tarna.

Many of the towns' children absorbed love for Eretz Israel from their teachers in the cheder and later joined the Mizrachi movement and underwent agricultural training. Many went to Eretz Israel.

Prior to World War II there were about 300 Jews in Josvainiai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) even before the Germans ewntered the town local nationalistic Lithuanians began to harass the Jews. One Jew was murdered on the way to his home and his possessions looted. After the Germans entered the town, the Lithuanians became more violent; they caught Jews, among them rabbi of the community and the shohet (religious slaughterer), cut off their beards and beat them cruelly, sometimes to death. The Jewish population lived in constant fear of the Lithuanians' breaking into their houses, looting their possessions, beatings and murder.

At the end of August 1941 the Jews were expulsed from their homes and taken to Ariagola. On the way they were shot to death into pits prepared beforehand and buried in them, covered with lime and ash. On that day 282 Jews were murdered, men, women and children. There is no memorial stone on the site of the mass grave.

Taurage

In Jewish sources: Tavrig

District town, western Lithuania.

Taurage is situated on the banks of the river Jura, 8 kilometers from the former frontier with East Prussia (up to World War II). The town was founded at the beginning of the 16th century, belonged formerly to a local noble family and for a time to east-Prussia which developed it. A main road and a central railway pass through the town and in the 19th century there was an active custom station there.

The economy of Taurage depended on trade with East Prussia. Prior to World War I Taurage was considered one of the wealthiest town in Lithuania and had a Jewish community of some 3,000 people. During the war, in 1915 the front was in and around Taurage; the district was devastated and the Jews exiled into the interior of Russia. Many of those did not return after the war and in 1923 there were 2,000 Jews in Taurage.

The separation of independent Lithuania from its Russian market harmed the town's trade and the Jews began to develop industries. Four large flour mills, a sawmill and a factory of sweets were built. Still there were Jewish traders who imported industrial goods and exported wood and agricultural produce. There were also Jewish artisans. The Jewish bank had 345 members and the local trade bank was run by a Jew.

Taurage was known as a town of Jewish learning and of enlightment. The local yeshiva was financed by the community and lay subjects were also taught in it. There were three study halls and a "kloiz" in the town. During the period of Lithuania's independence there existed a Hebrew school of the "Tarbut" network, a pre-gymnasium and a Hebrew gymnasium, a Talmud Tora and a library in the town. There also were the traditional charitable institutions, such as "Linath Zedek", a women's group and others.

There were famous rabbis and public figures in Taurage; the last rabbi was Levi Spitz.

Between the two world wars there was lively Zionist activity in the town. All the Zionist parties had branches there, as had the youth movements and sport organizations.

Prior to World War II there were about 3,000 Jews in Taurage.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1, 1939) and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Already on the first day of the German attack on soviet Russia (June 22, 1941) the Germans conquered the Taurage district. Only a few Jews managed to escape into Russia. The bombardment of the town caused fires which devastated most of its buildings and the inhabitants fled into the nearby villages. When the Jews returned later they found their possessions looted by their Lithuanian neighbors. Local bands of armed nationalistic Lithuanians took over the town; they harassed the Jews, molested the young women, injured rabbi Levy Spits and brutally murdered an old Jewish physician.

Taurage was in the 25 kilometers belt along the German frontier in which the Germans had decided to eliminate all Jews and communists. A gestapo official, aided by Lithuanians arrested 300 Jewish men and 25 non-Jewish communists; the Gestapo commander Hans Behme decided on July 2nd the day of the murder, as an "exemplary action" and took part in it personally. On July 2 all the prisoners were taken to a nearby village, told to deepen the anti-tank trenches there and then shot to death into the trenches by the men of the Gestapo and their Lithuanian henchmen.

Between July 3 and 10 another 122 Jewish men were murdered on the way to the small town of Silale; every day Jews were also murdered by the nationalistic Lithuanians. The women and children and the few remaining older men lived under conditions of want and fear in the few houses still left standing.

On September 6, 1941 the German orders pertaining to Jews were published and passed on to the local mayors and police officers. They were ordered to assemble the Jews in one central place, to elect a committee who solely was entitled to speak with the authorities; the Jews had to wear a yellow patch, forbidden to use the sidewalks, to hold personal possessions there were other orders in this spirit.

The Taurage Jews were assembled in wooden sheds which had been used by the Soviet army as carports. The sheds were designated as ghetto, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by Lithuanian police. Women and adolescent children were sent on forced labor out of the ghetto; they were forbidden to bring food with them. Under those conditions epidemics broke out and many children died.

On September 13 the ghetto Jews were informed that they would be transferred to a better place. They were put upon trucks and taken to the killing fields, 6 kilometers north east from the town. There they were brutally murdered by the Lithuanians, the henchmen of the Germans. The Lithuanians also stripped their victims of all their belongings. 513 Jews were killed in the same way. Only a few Jews remained in the town, working for the Germans but after a few weeks they also were murdered.

Kamajai

A town in the province of Rokiskis, north eastern Lithuania.

Kamajai lies on the banks of the Salteksna river in a region of lakes and forests. In 1847 the Jewish community in Kamajai numbered 453. In 1897 there were 944 Jews there 85% of the population. Most of the Jews were mitnagdim and a minority chasidim. Two separate synagogues served the kehilla (community).

A yeshiva established by Rabbi Eleazer Zeev Luft and Rabbi Israel Zisel Drory gave young boys who had become peddlers after finishing their studies in the cheder, the opportunity to continue learning torah and talmud. Some were so talented that they later became well-known scholars. The yeshiva attracted students from other communities in the area. Among the graduates was Prof. Samuel Atlas whos father Rabbi Abraham Leib Atlas was the shochet of the chasidim. The yeshiva was active until World War I (1914-1918). After the war the kehilla supported a cheder and a Hebrew school of the tarbut network. Many graduates continued their education in the yeshivot and Hebrew high school of the area. There was a lending library adjacent to the school.

For many years the chasidim had their own rabbi. The last rabbi of the community was Rabbi Leib Tiger.

From the middle of the 19th century till the outbreak of World War II all the stores in the town were owned by Jews. The peddlers in the villages were Jews as were most of the craftsmen.

Jewish fishermen leased the lakes which were rich in fish. The local postal service was operated by a Jew and the only drug store was owned by a Jewish pharmacist.

During World War I most of the Jews left Kamajai. Only ten Jewish families remained. After the war some families returned. In independent Lithuania between the two world wars, there were fewer marketing opportunities due to border changes. Government policy encouraged the transfer of work-shops and stores to the Lithuanian sector. Many Jews left for the cities or emigrated to England, the United States or South Africa. Among the remaining Jews were several craftsmen and the rest were shop keepers. Their business was mostly done on the days of the weekly markets and the three annual fairs.

On the eve of World War II there were 80 Jewish families in Kamajai.


The Holocaust Period

After the outbreak of World War II September 1, 1939 and the conquest of Poland by Germany, Lithuania was under Soviet administration and was annexed to the Soviet Union at the end of the summer of 1940.

On June 26, 1941 a few days after the German attack on Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) the German army entered the town. After the retreat of the Russians, the Lithuanian nationalists took over control of the town. They harassed and tortured the Jews and looted their property. After the Germans came, the attacks on the Jews increased. They were imprisoned in the study house. They were kept there several weeks with very little food and water. Between August 15 and Auguast 27, 1941 all the Jews were murdered by the Germans and their Lithuanian allies. The men were brought to the provincial capital Rokiskis and the women and children to the town of Obeliai in order to be murdered there.

Sirvintos

A town in the district of Ukmerge, south east Lithuania.

Jews settled here at the beginning of the 18th century as leasers of land, inns and taverns. In the course of time, social and economic contacts were made with Vilna (about 60 kilometers south-east). 216 Jews were recorded as living there in 1847, and fifty years later there were 1,413 Jews, comprising 84% of the town's total population. Their numbers continued to increase and on the eve of World War I came to 1,600. In 1915, during the war, the Jews of Sirvintos were exiled into the interior of Russia. After the war, many of them emigrated to South Africa and the Soviet Union, and a few to Eretz Israel. Jews from the area of Vilna also settled in Sirvintos, and in independent Lithuania, between the two world wars, the census of 1923 counted 1,800 Jews in Sirvintos.

The town had a synagogue, a house of study, a kloiz (small prayer house) and a shtiebel (rooms where hasidim prayed and studied). There were many yeshiva students and others who devoted time to the study of the torah. In the days of independent Lithuania, between the two world wars, in addition to two heders (elementay classes for small children), there were also a Yiddish school, and a tarbut Hebrew school. The Jewish community operated institutions for charity and mutual aid. The last rabbis to officiate in Sirvintos were Rabbi Abraham Arye Grossbard and his son-in-law Rabbi Zundel Krook, both of whom perished in the Holocaust.

The Jews of Sirvintos engaged in trade, crafts and peddling. Their main earnings came from market days which were held in the town and its vicinity. Several Jewish families engaged in farming. In 1929, the Jewish folk bank had 221 members.

After World War I (1914-1918) Zionist activity developed in the community, but at the same time anti-Zionist activity competed and the Jewish youth were split. There were two separate local libraries, and all cultural activities took place in two separate frameworks.

On the eve of World War II 700 Jews were living in Sirvintos.



The Holocaust Period

After World War II broke out (September 1, 1939) and Poland was occupied by Germany, Lithuania was transferred to Soviet rule and annexed to the Soviet Union at the end of summer 1940.

The Germans entered Sirvintos a few days after their attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941). With the help of nationalistic Lithuanians, they threw the torah scrolls into the street, and set fire to the synagogue and study houses. According to one version, the synagogue was set on fire while the elderly Rabbi Grossbard and his son-in-law Rabbi Krook were inside, and it was here that hey met their death; in the flames of the study house, a Jewish woman and her son, who lived in the building, also perished.

The Germans transferred control of the town to the local Lithuanians. Jews who were accused of contacts with the Soviet authorities were arrested, sent to the Ukmerge prison and murdered there. A few were murdered in Sirvintos. In July Jewish youths were taken for forced agricultural labor, from which they were led in groups of ten to Ukmerge, leaving no trace as to their ultimate fate.

On the 10th of August the Germans ordered Jewish wagoners to prepare for a journey. Jewish men of all ages were loaded on to the wagons. Those who resisted were destined to be burnt alive in the town. At the end of August, the remaining Jews of Sirvintos were taken and crowded into several deteriorated buildings at the edge of town. No kind of Jewish life was possible there, as the Jews were exposed to daily acts of robbery by the local Lithuanians. On the 26th of Elul 5701, September 18, 1941 the Jews were transported to the Pivonija forest near Ukmerge and shot to death into pits prepared in advance.

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