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The Jewish Community of Jonava

Jonava

In Jewish sources: Janova

A small town on the bank of the river Neris (also known as Vilya), in the Kaunas (Kovno) district, central Lithuania.

Janova is situated about 30 km north-west of Kovno close to the Libau railway; it is on the Warsaw-Petersburg highway, surrounded by dense forests. Already at the beginning of the 18th century there was a small Jewish community there; on the left bank of the Vilya river there are remains of its old cemetery. At the end of the century (1775) the Jews concentrated on the right bank of the river, on the land of the noble Kossakovski family who had founded the town and invited the Jews to settle in it.

In 1847 there were 813 Jews in Janova and 50 years later they constituted the majority of the population 3,975.

In 1905 nearly all of the town burnt down; it was rebuilt in stone instead of the wooden houses. During World War I (1914-1918) the Jews were exiled from the town; at the end of the war most of them returned to it together with their rabbi, Rabbi Yizhak Shilman and renewed the life of the community.

A Talmud torah headed by the Hebrew teacher Shaul Keidanski was reopened, a small yeshiva was founded and so were the usual charitable institutions. The community was eager to develop them and also founded a hospital. Jews from Janova who had emigrated at the end of the 19th century to the USA and South Africa helped their families in Jonava and donated to the charities there.

The town had a synagogue, the great prayer house, the peddlers' kloiz, the massons' kloiz, a stibel of the Habad Hassidim, a prayer house Tifereth Bahurim. There were also a number of small prayer houses for groups of artisans. Many of the members of the community were well-versed in religious writings and the prayer houses of the town were the centers of the intellectual life of the community and of communal activity, especially in times of emergency.

In the yeshiva founded by Rabbi Yehuda Gurfunkel there were dozens of students from Yanova and from the nearby towns. There were also a great number of hadarim for the smaller children.

During the period between the two world wars about one thousand pupils learnt in the Jewish schools of the town. There existed a Yiddish school with its library, a yavne school and its library and a Hebrew school of the tarbuth network. A Hebrew library was founded by the Zionist organizations of the town. Absolvents of those school continued their studies in the high schools and university of Kovno.

As the Jews constituted the majority in Janova, Rabbi Chaim Levin headed the local council for many years. In 1921 there were 1,800 Jews in the town. Morris Vitchevski the father of Yiddish socialistic literature and Israel Davidson, specialist for medieval Jewish literature came from Janova.

The natural surroundings of the town were a rich source of income for its population. Gentiles as well as Jews worked in felling lumber, preparing it for use as building material and for carpentry or in rafting the wood down the Vilya river for export to other European countries. Jewish traders marketed the lumber in Lithuania and abroad. As Janova was the center for the many surrounding villages, the Jews also marketed their farming produce in the country and abroad. The Jewish shopkeepers and artisans served those villages too and made a living from them. Dozens of Jewish families earned their income from transporting goods and people to the big cities, at first in carts, later in lorries.

The charity fund founded for artisans and shopkeepers grew into a big Jewish bank. In 1939 there were 140 members in the Jewish union of artisans and the Jewish bank had 600 members.

The Janova manufacture of furniture was famous all over Lithuania and employed about 600 workers. A factory for matches belonged to the Burstyne family, and a saw mill, a flour mill, a factory for sweets and beverage were in Jewish hands.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish young people preferred non-religious studies and turned to politics and during the communist revolution they could be found in all revolutionary movements. During the period between the two world wars the Jewish community was divided between the Zionist and the Yiddishist camps. Finally most of the young people became members of one of the Zionist youth organizations. In the Hebrew library evening classes for adults were held, there was a sport organization and training facilities towards Aliyah to Eretz Israel. The Hechalutz center sent its members to Janova and the Beth Hechalutz built there served as a center for those going on Aliyah. Among the first group Achvah, going to Eretz Israel, there were many people from Janova; they joined the settlement in Eretz Israel.

Prior to World War II there were about 3,000 Jews in Janova; 60% of the general population of 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.

Jewish refugees from conquered Poland were integrated into the Janova community and taken care of by its charitable institutions.

On the first day of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) Janova was filled with refugees on their way east. The local Jews also were ready for flight and in the ensuing panic many Jews were shot by Lithuanian snipers or killed by German air attacks. Next day a decisive battle was fought near the town, between the Germans and the retreating Red Army; dozens of Jews were killed and many houses destroyed by the shells falling on Janova.

On June 26 the headquarters of the SS in Janova ordered all the Jews assembled in the market place. The Lithuanians, henchmen of the Germans collected the Jews while molesting, harassing and robbing them and looting their houses. In the market place the Jews were forced to kneel. Among them was the rabbi of the community, Rabbi Nahum Baruch Ginzburg. The Lithuanians armed with machine guns surrounded the Jews. A shell falling nearby caused the crowd to disperse and avoided mass slaughter at this particular time.

The Germans executed a number of Jews as communists on June 27; they were informed against by a young Lithuanian girl.

50 Jewish young strong men were taken for labor on June 29 in the German army and did not return. At the beginning of July the commanders of the Lithuanians who acted as the Germans' auxiliaries asked of Rabbi Ginsburg and other Jewish notables to pay a fine so they should not be exiled from the town. The great sum (150,000 Rubles) demanded was ultimately paid with the help of the Kovno rabbi; the Jews remained in Janova and concentrated in one place, in a kind of ghetto. They were ordered to wear a yellow patch with a Magen David on it and were taken for heavy and humiliating forced labor. Some of them never came back. In spite of their working for the Germans and Lithuanians the Jews were not given bread and there was hunger among the ghetto inhabitants.

On July 8 most of the young men, among them the rabbi were taken from the ghetto to the nearby army barracks. On July 12 they were taken in groups of 200, under Lithuanian guard, to the killing fields, were trenches had been prepared beforehand. There they were shot into the trenches and buried there by the Lithuanians, the henchmen of the Germans. Among the murderers were Lithuanians from Janova, well-known to the Jews. The valuables and personal belongings of the victims were divided among their murderers. There were some Jews who put up a resistance and fought with their murderers and a few even managed to escape.

The rabbi and a number of Jews stayed in the barracks because the Germans planned to bring all the Jews of the town there. At the beginning of August orders were published decreeing the death penalty for hiding Jews and promising extra food to those informing on the Jews. The Lithuaninans began hunting Jews and to bring them to the barracks. A group of Polish Jews who had hid with a Lithuanian who had received all their possession in exchange were caught and taken to the barracks. On August 13 the Jews were brought to the killing fields; hundreds of men, women and children were murdered and thrown into the trenches. Janova was decreed Judenrein (clean of Jews) and only the next day Lithuanian peasants were brought to cover the mass graves.

In a village about 13 km from Janova, a place called by the Jews Alter Gastinetz a few dozens of Jews were hiding. The Lithuanian auxiliary police from Janova allowed the Jews to stay there, after a number of Jews had been executed for Zionist activities at the beginning of July, in order to help the peasants in their agricultural work. The men who were occasionally taken by the policemen never returned. At the end of September all of them were taken to the barracks where they found dozens of Jews from the villages and roads, 150 persons altogether, men, women and children. They were promised their lives. On October 4 they put their belongings and the children on carts and the adults walking started a march to Kovno. One Lithuanian policeman, known as Labas accompanied them. His treatment of the Jews was humane and kind and he allowed them to buy food in the villages. They arrived at the Kovno ghetto at midnight, after a death action in the little ghetto and the murder of Jews at the 9th port, joined the Jews of the ghetto and shared their fate.


In 1955, in spite of the enmity of the population the survivors of the Janova community raised a memorial for the victims. The memorial was erected in a grove and has inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian.

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The Jewish Community of Jonava

Jonava

In Jewish sources: Janova

A small town on the bank of the river Neris (also known as Vilya), in the Kaunas (Kovno) district, central Lithuania.

Janova is situated about 30 km north-west of Kovno close to the Libau railway; it is on the Warsaw-Petersburg highway, surrounded by dense forests. Already at the beginning of the 18th century there was a small Jewish community there; on the left bank of the Vilya river there are remains of its old cemetery. At the end of the century (1775) the Jews concentrated on the right bank of the river, on the land of the noble Kossakovski family who had founded the town and invited the Jews to settle in it.

In 1847 there were 813 Jews in Janova and 50 years later they constituted the majority of the population 3,975.

In 1905 nearly all of the town burnt down; it was rebuilt in stone instead of the wooden houses. During World War I (1914-1918) the Jews were exiled from the town; at the end of the war most of them returned to it together with their rabbi, Rabbi Yizhak Shilman and renewed the life of the community.

A Talmud torah headed by the Hebrew teacher Shaul Keidanski was reopened, a small yeshiva was founded and so were the usual charitable institutions. The community was eager to develop them and also founded a hospital. Jews from Janova who had emigrated at the end of the 19th century to the USA and South Africa helped their families in Jonava and donated to the charities there.

The town had a synagogue, the great prayer house, the peddlers' kloiz, the massons' kloiz, a stibel of the Habad Hassidim, a prayer house Tifereth Bahurim. There were also a number of small prayer houses for groups of artisans. Many of the members of the community were well-versed in religious writings and the prayer houses of the town were the centers of the intellectual life of the community and of communal activity, especially in times of emergency.

In the yeshiva founded by Rabbi Yehuda Gurfunkel there were dozens of students from Yanova and from the nearby towns. There were also a great number of hadarim for the smaller children.

During the period between the two world wars about one thousand pupils learnt in the Jewish schools of the town. There existed a Yiddish school with its library, a yavne school and its library and a Hebrew school of the tarbuth network. A Hebrew library was founded by the Zionist organizations of the town. Absolvents of those school continued their studies in the high schools and university of Kovno.

As the Jews constituted the majority in Janova, Rabbi Chaim Levin headed the local council for many years. In 1921 there were 1,800 Jews in the town. Morris Vitchevski the father of Yiddish socialistic literature and Israel Davidson, specialist for medieval Jewish literature came from Janova.

The natural surroundings of the town were a rich source of income for its population. Gentiles as well as Jews worked in felling lumber, preparing it for use as building material and for carpentry or in rafting the wood down the Vilya river for export to other European countries. Jewish traders marketed the lumber in Lithuania and abroad. As Janova was the center for the many surrounding villages, the Jews also marketed their farming produce in the country and abroad. The Jewish shopkeepers and artisans served those villages too and made a living from them. Dozens of Jewish families earned their income from transporting goods and people to the big cities, at first in carts, later in lorries.

The charity fund founded for artisans and shopkeepers grew into a big Jewish bank. In 1939 there were 140 members in the Jewish union of artisans and the Jewish bank had 600 members.

The Janova manufacture of furniture was famous all over Lithuania and employed about 600 workers. A factory for matches belonged to the Burstyne family, and a saw mill, a flour mill, a factory for sweets and beverage were in Jewish hands.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish young people preferred non-religious studies and turned to politics and during the communist revolution they could be found in all revolutionary movements. During the period between the two world wars the Jewish community was divided between the Zionist and the Yiddishist camps. Finally most of the young people became members of one of the Zionist youth organizations. In the Hebrew library evening classes for adults were held, there was a sport organization and training facilities towards Aliyah to Eretz Israel. The Hechalutz center sent its members to Janova and the Beth Hechalutz built there served as a center for those going on Aliyah. Among the first group Achvah, going to Eretz Israel, there were many people from Janova; they joined the settlement in Eretz Israel.

Prior to World War II there were about 3,000 Jews in Janova; 60% of the general population of 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.

Jewish refugees from conquered Poland were integrated into the Janova community and taken care of by its charitable institutions.

On the first day of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941) Janova was filled with refugees on their way east. The local Jews also were ready for flight and in the ensuing panic many Jews were shot by Lithuanian snipers or killed by German air attacks. Next day a decisive battle was fought near the town, between the Germans and the retreating Red Army; dozens of Jews were killed and many houses destroyed by the shells falling on Janova.

On June 26 the headquarters of the SS in Janova ordered all the Jews assembled in the market place. The Lithuanians, henchmen of the Germans collected the Jews while molesting, harassing and robbing them and looting their houses. In the market place the Jews were forced to kneel. Among them was the rabbi of the community, Rabbi Nahum Baruch Ginzburg. The Lithuanians armed with machine guns surrounded the Jews. A shell falling nearby caused the crowd to disperse and avoided mass slaughter at this particular time.

The Germans executed a number of Jews as communists on June 27; they were informed against by a young Lithuanian girl.

50 Jewish young strong men were taken for labor on June 29 in the German army and did not return. At the beginning of July the commanders of the Lithuanians who acted as the Germans' auxiliaries asked of Rabbi Ginsburg and other Jewish notables to pay a fine so they should not be exiled from the town. The great sum (150,000 Rubles) demanded was ultimately paid with the help of the Kovno rabbi; the Jews remained in Janova and concentrated in one place, in a kind of ghetto. They were ordered to wear a yellow patch with a Magen David on it and were taken for heavy and humiliating forced labor. Some of them never came back. In spite of their working for the Germans and Lithuanians the Jews were not given bread and there was hunger among the ghetto inhabitants.

On July 8 most of the young men, among them the rabbi were taken from the ghetto to the nearby army barracks. On July 12 they were taken in groups of 200, under Lithuanian guard, to the killing fields, were trenches had been prepared beforehand. There they were shot into the trenches and buried there by the Lithuanians, the henchmen of the Germans. Among the murderers were Lithuanians from Janova, well-known to the Jews. The valuables and personal belongings of the victims were divided among their murderers. There were some Jews who put up a resistance and fought with their murderers and a few even managed to escape.

The rabbi and a number of Jews stayed in the barracks because the Germans planned to bring all the Jews of the town there. At the beginning of August orders were published decreeing the death penalty for hiding Jews and promising extra food to those informing on the Jews. The Lithuaninans began hunting Jews and to bring them to the barracks. A group of Polish Jews who had hid with a Lithuanian who had received all their possession in exchange were caught and taken to the barracks. On August 13 the Jews were brought to the killing fields; hundreds of men, women and children were murdered and thrown into the trenches. Janova was decreed Judenrein (clean of Jews) and only the next day Lithuanian peasants were brought to cover the mass graves.

In a village about 13 km from Janova, a place called by the Jews Alter Gastinetz a few dozens of Jews were hiding. The Lithuanian auxiliary police from Janova allowed the Jews to stay there, after a number of Jews had been executed for Zionist activities at the beginning of July, in order to help the peasants in their agricultural work. The men who were occasionally taken by the policemen never returned. At the end of September all of them were taken to the barracks where they found dozens of Jews from the villages and roads, 150 persons altogether, men, women and children. They were promised their lives. On October 4 they put their belongings and the children on carts and the adults walking started a march to Kovno. One Lithuanian policeman, known as Labas accompanied them. His treatment of the Jews was humane and kind and he allowed them to buy food in the villages. They arrived at the Kovno ghetto at midnight, after a death action in the little ghetto and the murder of Jews at the 9th port, joined the Jews of the ghetto and shared their fate.


In 1955, in spite of the enmity of the population the survivors of the Janova community raised a memorial for the victims. The memorial was erected in a grove and has inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People