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The Jewish Community of Troskunai

Troskunai

In Jewish sources: Trashkon

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

In 1897 there were 779 Jews in Trashkon, 78% of the general population. During World War I (1914-1918) in the summer of 1915 the Jews were exiled into central Russia, their houses were destroyed and their possessions looted. After the war most of them returned to Trashkon and rebuilt their houses.

There were two synagogues in Trashkon, one of the hasidim and one of the mitnagdim. Rabbi Elieser Shenkin was the last officiating rabbi of the community. Rabbi Schneur Reznikovitz known in the surrounding villages as The Holy One (Hakadosh) was venerated by Jews and gentiles alike.

During the period of Lithuania's independence between the two world wars the community had a school and a library. Most of the young people were in the Zionist movement Hehalutz or in the Socialistic Zionists.

The Jews of Trashkon made a living from trade, artisanship and gardening. A wine distillery was in Jewish hands. Thursday was the weekly market day.

The Jewish bank had 96 members in 1929; its director for many years was Rabbi Moshe Yakov Shmukler.

Prior to World War II there were about 120 Jewish families in Trashkon.


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.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), before the Germans entered Lithuania, a local organized band of nationalistic Lithuanians took over the town. A Jew was murdered in the street and a Jewish woman was murdered in her home. Jewish homes were looted by Lithuanian gangs.

When the Germans entered the town they published of their houses and sent to live in a poor neighborhood. Gangs of young Lithuanians harassed young Jewish people, their former neighbors and murdered them in the Jewish cemetery. There were Jews who resisted the gangs and urged other Jews to do so too. They paid for it with their lives.

On August 21-22, 1941 all the Trashkon Jews were taken to Pajuoste near Ponevezh, the killing field of all the the Jews in the region. On August 23 all of them were murdered and buried in a mass grave in Pajuoste.

After the war the survivors of the community erected a memorial for the Pajuoste victims with an inscription in Russian and Yiddish. In Trashkon itself the authorities permitted the erection of a memorial and under pressure allowed an inscription only in Lithuanian, not mentioning that the victims were Jews.

Place Type:
Town
ID Number:
221372
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Panevezys

In Jewish sources: Ponevezh, Ponivezh

A district town in northern Lithuania.

Panevezys originated as a small settlement in the 14th century. In 1568, after it had become a town, the jurisdictional functions for the area were transferred to it, and its importance increased. In 1795, with the third division of Poland, the area was annexed to Russia and Panevezys became a district capital. The district was part of independent Lithuania between the two world wars.

Families of Karaites, a Jewish sect founded in the 8th century which considers the Bible as being the sole source of Jewish law, were brought as captives from the Crimean peninsula. They settled in Panevezys and became the second largest Karaite community in Lithuania. The largest Karaite community was in the town of Troki. Most of them lived on one street, where their house of prayer was also situated. In the course of time their numbers dwindled, and their local community ceased to exist.

Jews began settling in Panevezys in the 17th century. They erected a tall, wooden synagogue with a decorated holy ark and an ornamented pulpit. At the same time, a cemetery was consecrated in the western outskirts of the town, and the community also had a bath house.

According to the tax records of 1776, there were 254 Jews in the town who paid the head tax. From that time, the settlement grew continuously. In 1847 there were 1,447 Jews in Panevezys, by 1897 they had increased to 6,627 (about 50% of the overall population) and before World War I approximately 7,000 Jews were living there (39% of the overall population).

Attorney Naftali Friedman was the representative of Panevezys in the third Duma (former Russian parliament) from 1912 to 1917.

In 1915, during the course of World War I, the Jews were exiled into the Russian interior together with the Jews from the Kaunas district, because the Russian authorities suspected them of being disloyal. The Jewish quarter Slobodka was burned down and plundered.

The Jews who returned to independent Lithuania (1918-1939) after the war were granted cultural autonomy; this brought about the renewal of community life. The community committee became active again, the large Jewish hospital, the orphanage for 75 children and the home for the aged accommodating 30 old people were reopened, among other institutions. The public libraries also resumed their activities.

In 1921 about 8,000 Jews were living in Panevezys. The community was known as a fortress of ultra-orthodox Judaism. It had 15 houses of worship, yeshivot and five additional houses of worship in the courtyard of the Shul Hof Glikel and a house of study with a sun dial.

The pride of the community was the yeshiva the Panevezys Group, which was founded by Rabbi Isaac Jacob Rabinowitz (Rabbi Itzile of Panevezys) with the support of the Gebronski family of Moscow, in memory of the daughter of the well-known philantropist Kalonymus Zev Wissotsky, owner of the tea company. Many studied at the yeshiva for extended periods of time, sometimes for as long as twenty years. From the Panevezys group there emerged many rabbis of great repute, at the head of the Panevezys rabbinate Rabbi Jacov, son of Yitzchak Halevi; Rabbi Shaul Shapira, author of Hemdat Shaul; rabbi shmuel, son of rabbi abraham shapira, author of "me'il shmuel"; rabbi moshe yitzchak segal; rabbi hillel, son of rabbi zvi milaikovsky, known as "rabbi hillel haharif"; rabbi eliahu david rabinowitz-te'umim (ha'aderet); rabbi chaim yaakov chovadunsky, who was rabbi in Panevezys during Wirld War I, author of David Hamelech (commentaries on Rambam) and Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Rabin (Moreh Zedek).

The last rabbi of Panevezys, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Cahaneman (born in 1887) founded there a big yeshiva of 400 students, a yeshiva preparatory program, and an elementary and a secondary school for girls. In Panevezys there were also heders and a kloiz (small prayer house) of the hasidim.

During this era Panevezys was also a center for the Haskala movement, and was called Little Vilna. The poet Yehudah Leib Gordon (Yal'ag) lived in the town and it was here that he wrote his first poems.

Before World War I, the Jewish youth studied in the town's Russian elementary schools and the Russian secondary school. In the 1870s there was a local modern Hebrew elementary school, which taught Hebrew, the old testament and secular studies. Among its teachers were the authors Yitzchak Romash, one of the school's founders, and the poet Yehudah Leib Gordon.

In the days of independent Lithuania a Hebrew secondary school was established, in which thousands of students from Panevezys and the vicinity studied. The school was housed in a magnificent building and became the cultural center for the Jews of the entire surrounding area. In the school lectures and evening classes were held, as well as a people's university for adults in which Chaim Nachman Bialik, Zalman Schneur, Nachum Sokolow and other men of renown lectured. Also a Hebrew school of the tarbut network was established, during the same period, a religious Hebrew secondary school for girls yavneh, the popular school in which the language of instruction was Hebrew, an additional school with Yiddish as the language of instruction and a vocational school of the Ort network were founded. At the initiative of Rabbi Cahaniman a religious school was built which later became the yeshiva preparatory school.

The Jews participated in the economic life of Panevezys, and the trade in linen and produce for export was in their hands. They were owners of large flour mills and supplied most of the flour consumed in Lithuania. Jews also owned several factories and sold their products in all parts of the country.

In addition to merchants, agents and clerks there were also artisans in the community. In 1939 their organization had about 300 members.

The Jewish People's Bank, established before World War I, had 984 members in 1929. In the town there were also branches of the Central Jewish Bank, the Bank of Commerce, the Mutual Credit Bank and Elitzur Bank. Mondays and Thursdays were the town's market days.

Prior to World War I the presence of the Zionist movement in Panevezys was slight, but in the days of independent Lithuania, it was the center of Zionist activity of Zionist Youth (united), S. Z. (socialist Zionists) and the revisionists.

Clubs were opened for the sport organizations Maccabee, Hakoach and Hapoel, and they had hundreds of members.

The variety of activities of the youth movements, Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia, Pioneer-Scout Youth, S. Z. Youth and Betar included performances, parties, public discussions and processions in the streets of the town. Libraries were opened for young people, having Hebrew books also.

The Jewish National Fund and the National Foundation Fund were active within the Zionist public, and when a branch of Hechalutz was established, an agricultural training camp was set up for residents of the town and its environs planning to emigrate to Eretz Israel. Many of them settled in Israel, where they were active in the Haganah and among the builders of the country.

In Panevezys there was also a central branch of the Bund" Jews participated in the municipal life of the town, and a Jew officiated as deputy-mayor.

Rabbi Cahaniman, an active member of Agudath Yisrael, was also a member of the Presidency of the Rabbinical Association of Lithuania and was elected as a delegate to the Lithuanian Sejm (parliament).

In 1939 there were approximately 7,000 Jews in Panevezys and the Jewish community was the third in size in Lithuania, with only Vilna and Kovno greater in number.


The Holocaust Period

After World War II broke out (1 September 1939) and the German conquest of Poland, Lithuania came under Soviet jurisdiction. In August 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Jewish public life was paralyzed, yeshivas and Hebrew schools were closed and the Zionist parties and youth movements were dissolved. The nationalization of property pressed heavily on the economy; goods did not reach the shops and the merchants who were mainly Jews were badly affected. The standard of living continued to decline. There were Jews who integrated into the government's bureaucracy. Immediately following the German attack on the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, and before the Germans reached Panevezys, Lithuanian nationalists began harassing the Jews. They opened their own headquarters headed by the high school administration and other personalities from among the Lithuanian intellectuals, and organized the high school pupils, they later became the main
perpetrators of the slaughter of the Jews.

A false accusation, according to which a Lithuanian doctor had been murdered by Jews, served as a pretext for a brutal attack on the Jewish population of the town.

On the 26th of June the German army conquered Panevezys. Occupied Lithuania became part of the Ostland district of the German Reich. Ostland included the Baltic countries and Belorussia. Decrees in the spirit of the Nazi racial laws were issued against the Jews. Their property was confiscated, they were obliged to wear an identification mark, a Star of David on a yellow patch, their contact with the rest of the population was restricted, and forced labor was imposed upon them. Groups of extreme Lithuanian nationalists, organized and armed, placed themselves at the disposal of the Germans as an auxiliary police force.

At first the Panevezys Jews were required to present themselves daily for forced labor, and to be led through the town's streets exposed to the cruel treatment of the Lithuanian police. Young Jews were taken to work in the peat mines from which they never returned.

According to German instructions, the Jewish community leaders and intellectuals were incarcerated in the Panevezys prison, where they were subject to severe cruelty. Their arms were broken with iron bars in all sorts of accidents, they were forced to carry barrels of fuel each weighing 200 kilograms, and then the porters were tossed into pits of boiling lime.

Night after night gestapo broke into the prisons where Jews were imprisoned, and forced them to crawl on gravel in the yard and beat them with whips laced with wire thread. Those wounded were driven to the forests and shot to death.

A Lithuanian farm owner harnessed Jewish men to wagons, whipped them and shot some of them to death.

The Jews were given until July 11, 1941 to move to the ghetto which was set up in several of the town's streets, and to which Jews from surrounding towns were also driven. Seventy of the Jewish community's most prominent members were held as hostages to assure that the Jews would not run away. These hostages were taken to an abandoned military camp in Fayust, a distance of five kilometers from the town, and there they were murdered.

In August 1941, under false pretenses, all the Jews were taken to Fayust, where they were forced to dig pits in which they were shot. At the order of the Germans, Soviet prisoners-of-war filled in the pits. Between the 16th of July and the 21th of August the Panevezys ghetto was liquidated; 8,745 Jews were slaughtered there.


After the war a monument was built in memory of those slaughtered and a Star of David is engraved upon it.

A Jewish youth, Shmuel Rappaport, a son of Panevezys, returned from the war in the ranks of the Lithuanian division of the soviet army. He dedicated himself to locating Jewish orphans who had remained in the hands of Lithuanians. The children were given to Jewish adoptive families. In 1948 Shmuel Rappaport was murdered by Lithuanians.


Rabbi Cahaniman migrated to Israel with his son in 1940. His family perished in Panevezys in the Holocaust. He established the big Panevezys Yeshiva in Bnei-Brak and also many public buildings and charity institutions.

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: info@lzb.tl
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.

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The Jewish Community of Troskunai

Troskunai

In Jewish sources: Trashkon

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

In 1897 there were 779 Jews in Trashkon, 78% of the general population. During World War I (1914-1918) in the summer of 1915 the Jews were exiled into central Russia, their houses were destroyed and their possessions looted. After the war most of them returned to Trashkon and rebuilt their houses.

There were two synagogues in Trashkon, one of the hasidim and one of the mitnagdim. Rabbi Elieser Shenkin was the last officiating rabbi of the community. Rabbi Schneur Reznikovitz known in the surrounding villages as The Holy One (Hakadosh) was venerated by Jews and gentiles alike.

During the period of Lithuania's independence between the two world wars the community had a school and a library. Most of the young people were in the Zionist movement Hehalutz or in the Socialistic Zionists.

The Jews of Trashkon made a living from trade, artisanship and gardening. A wine distillery was in Jewish hands. Thursday was the weekly market day.

The Jewish bank had 96 members in 1929; its director for many years was Rabbi Moshe Yakov Shmukler.

Prior to World War II there were about 120 Jewish families in Trashkon.


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.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941), before the Germans entered Lithuania, a local organized band of nationalistic Lithuanians took over the town. A Jew was murdered in the street and a Jewish woman was murdered in her home. Jewish homes were looted by Lithuanian gangs.

When the Germans entered the town they published of their houses and sent to live in a poor neighborhood. Gangs of young Lithuanians harassed young Jewish people, their former neighbors and murdered them in the Jewish cemetery. There were Jews who resisted the gangs and urged other Jews to do so too. They paid for it with their lives.

On August 21-22, 1941 all the Trashkon Jews were taken to Pajuoste near Ponevezh, the killing field of all the the Jews in the region. On August 23 all of them were murdered and buried in a mass grave in Pajuoste.

After the war the survivors of the community erected a memorial for the Pajuoste victims with an inscription in Russian and Yiddish. In Trashkon itself the authorities permitted the erection of a memorial and under pressure allowed an inscription only in Lithuanian, not mentioning that the victims were Jews.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Lithuania
Panevezys

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: info@lzb.tl
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.

Panevezys

In Jewish sources: Ponevezh, Ponivezh

A district town in northern Lithuania.

Panevezys originated as a small settlement in the 14th century. In 1568, after it had become a town, the jurisdictional functions for the area were transferred to it, and its importance increased. In 1795, with the third division of Poland, the area was annexed to Russia and Panevezys became a district capital. The district was part of independent Lithuania between the two world wars.

Families of Karaites, a Jewish sect founded in the 8th century which considers the Bible as being the sole source of Jewish law, were brought as captives from the Crimean peninsula. They settled in Panevezys and became the second largest Karaite community in Lithuania. The largest Karaite community was in the town of Troki. Most of them lived on one street, where their house of prayer was also situated. In the course of time their numbers dwindled, and their local community ceased to exist.

Jews began settling in Panevezys in the 17th century. They erected a tall, wooden synagogue with a decorated holy ark and an ornamented pulpit. At the same time, a cemetery was consecrated in the western outskirts of the town, and the community also had a bath house.

According to the tax records of 1776, there were 254 Jews in the town who paid the head tax. From that time, the settlement grew continuously. In 1847 there were 1,447 Jews in Panevezys, by 1897 they had increased to 6,627 (about 50% of the overall population) and before World War I approximately 7,000 Jews were living there (39% of the overall population).

Attorney Naftali Friedman was the representative of Panevezys in the third Duma (former Russian parliament) from 1912 to 1917.

In 1915, during the course of World War I, the Jews were exiled into the Russian interior together with the Jews from the Kaunas district, because the Russian authorities suspected them of being disloyal. The Jewish quarter Slobodka was burned down and plundered.

The Jews who returned to independent Lithuania (1918-1939) after the war were granted cultural autonomy; this brought about the renewal of community life. The community committee became active again, the large Jewish hospital, the orphanage for 75 children and the home for the aged accommodating 30 old people were reopened, among other institutions. The public libraries also resumed their activities.

In 1921 about 8,000 Jews were living in Panevezys. The community was known as a fortress of ultra-orthodox Judaism. It had 15 houses of worship, yeshivot and five additional houses of worship in the courtyard of the Shul Hof Glikel and a house of study with a sun dial.

The pride of the community was the yeshiva the Panevezys Group, which was founded by Rabbi Isaac Jacob Rabinowitz (Rabbi Itzile of Panevezys) with the support of the Gebronski family of Moscow, in memory of the daughter of the well-known philantropist Kalonymus Zev Wissotsky, owner of the tea company. Many studied at the yeshiva for extended periods of time, sometimes for as long as twenty years. From the Panevezys group there emerged many rabbis of great repute, at the head of the Panevezys rabbinate Rabbi Jacov, son of Yitzchak Halevi; Rabbi Shaul Shapira, author of Hemdat Shaul; rabbi shmuel, son of rabbi abraham shapira, author of "me'il shmuel"; rabbi moshe yitzchak segal; rabbi hillel, son of rabbi zvi milaikovsky, known as "rabbi hillel haharif"; rabbi eliahu david rabinowitz-te'umim (ha'aderet); rabbi chaim yaakov chovadunsky, who was rabbi in Panevezys during Wirld War I, author of David Hamelech (commentaries on Rambam) and Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Rabin (Moreh Zedek).

The last rabbi of Panevezys, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Cahaneman (born in 1887) founded there a big yeshiva of 400 students, a yeshiva preparatory program, and an elementary and a secondary school for girls. In Panevezys there were also heders and a kloiz (small prayer house) of the hasidim.

During this era Panevezys was also a center for the Haskala movement, and was called Little Vilna. The poet Yehudah Leib Gordon (Yal'ag) lived in the town and it was here that he wrote his first poems.

Before World War I, the Jewish youth studied in the town's Russian elementary schools and the Russian secondary school. In the 1870s there was a local modern Hebrew elementary school, which taught Hebrew, the old testament and secular studies. Among its teachers were the authors Yitzchak Romash, one of the school's founders, and the poet Yehudah Leib Gordon.

In the days of independent Lithuania a Hebrew secondary school was established, in which thousands of students from Panevezys and the vicinity studied. The school was housed in a magnificent building and became the cultural center for the Jews of the entire surrounding area. In the school lectures and evening classes were held, as well as a people's university for adults in which Chaim Nachman Bialik, Zalman Schneur, Nachum Sokolow and other men of renown lectured. Also a Hebrew school of the tarbut network was established, during the same period, a religious Hebrew secondary school for girls yavneh, the popular school in which the language of instruction was Hebrew, an additional school with Yiddish as the language of instruction and a vocational school of the Ort network were founded. At the initiative of Rabbi Cahaniman a religious school was built which later became the yeshiva preparatory school.

The Jews participated in the economic life of Panevezys, and the trade in linen and produce for export was in their hands. They were owners of large flour mills and supplied most of the flour consumed in Lithuania. Jews also owned several factories and sold their products in all parts of the country.

In addition to merchants, agents and clerks there were also artisans in the community. In 1939 their organization had about 300 members.

The Jewish People's Bank, established before World War I, had 984 members in 1929. In the town there were also branches of the Central Jewish Bank, the Bank of Commerce, the Mutual Credit Bank and Elitzur Bank. Mondays and Thursdays were the town's market days.

Prior to World War I the presence of the Zionist movement in Panevezys was slight, but in the days of independent Lithuania, it was the center of Zionist activity of Zionist Youth (united), S. Z. (socialist Zionists) and the revisionists.

Clubs were opened for the sport organizations Maccabee, Hakoach and Hapoel, and they had hundreds of members.

The variety of activities of the youth movements, Hashomer Hatzair, Gordonia, Pioneer-Scout Youth, S. Z. Youth and Betar included performances, parties, public discussions and processions in the streets of the town. Libraries were opened for young people, having Hebrew books also.

The Jewish National Fund and the National Foundation Fund were active within the Zionist public, and when a branch of Hechalutz was established, an agricultural training camp was set up for residents of the town and its environs planning to emigrate to Eretz Israel. Many of them settled in Israel, where they were active in the Haganah and among the builders of the country.

In Panevezys there was also a central branch of the Bund" Jews participated in the municipal life of the town, and a Jew officiated as deputy-mayor.

Rabbi Cahaniman, an active member of Agudath Yisrael, was also a member of the Presidency of the Rabbinical Association of Lithuania and was elected as a delegate to the Lithuanian Sejm (parliament).

In 1939 there were approximately 7,000 Jews in Panevezys and the Jewish community was the third in size in Lithuania, with only Vilna and Kovno greater in number.


The Holocaust Period

After World War II broke out (1 September 1939) and the German conquest of Poland, Lithuania came under Soviet jurisdiction. In August 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Jewish public life was paralyzed, yeshivas and Hebrew schools were closed and the Zionist parties and youth movements were dissolved. The nationalization of property pressed heavily on the economy; goods did not reach the shops and the merchants who were mainly Jews were badly affected. The standard of living continued to decline. There were Jews who integrated into the government's bureaucracy. Immediately following the German attack on the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, and before the Germans reached Panevezys, Lithuanian nationalists began harassing the Jews. They opened their own headquarters headed by the high school administration and other personalities from among the Lithuanian intellectuals, and organized the high school pupils, they later became the main
perpetrators of the slaughter of the Jews.

A false accusation, according to which a Lithuanian doctor had been murdered by Jews, served as a pretext for a brutal attack on the Jewish population of the town.

On the 26th of June the German army conquered Panevezys. Occupied Lithuania became part of the Ostland district of the German Reich. Ostland included the Baltic countries and Belorussia. Decrees in the spirit of the Nazi racial laws were issued against the Jews. Their property was confiscated, they were obliged to wear an identification mark, a Star of David on a yellow patch, their contact with the rest of the population was restricted, and forced labor was imposed upon them. Groups of extreme Lithuanian nationalists, organized and armed, placed themselves at the disposal of the Germans as an auxiliary police force.

At first the Panevezys Jews were required to present themselves daily for forced labor, and to be led through the town's streets exposed to the cruel treatment of the Lithuanian police. Young Jews were taken to work in the peat mines from which they never returned.

According to German instructions, the Jewish community leaders and intellectuals were incarcerated in the Panevezys prison, where they were subject to severe cruelty. Their arms were broken with iron bars in all sorts of accidents, they were forced to carry barrels of fuel each weighing 200 kilograms, and then the porters were tossed into pits of boiling lime.

Night after night gestapo broke into the prisons where Jews were imprisoned, and forced them to crawl on gravel in the yard and beat them with whips laced with wire thread. Those wounded were driven to the forests and shot to death.

A Lithuanian farm owner harnessed Jewish men to wagons, whipped them and shot some of them to death.

The Jews were given until July 11, 1941 to move to the ghetto which was set up in several of the town's streets, and to which Jews from surrounding towns were also driven. Seventy of the Jewish community's most prominent members were held as hostages to assure that the Jews would not run away. These hostages were taken to an abandoned military camp in Fayust, a distance of five kilometers from the town, and there they were murdered.

In August 1941, under false pretenses, all the Jews were taken to Fayust, where they were forced to dig pits in which they were shot. At the order of the Germans, Soviet prisoners-of-war filled in the pits. Between the 16th of July and the 21th of August the Panevezys ghetto was liquidated; 8,745 Jews were slaughtered there.


After the war a monument was built in memory of those slaughtered and a Star of David is engraved upon it.

A Jewish youth, Shmuel Rappaport, a son of Panevezys, returned from the war in the ranks of the Lithuanian division of the soviet army. He dedicated himself to locating Jewish orphans who had remained in the hands of Lithuanians. The children were given to Jewish adoptive families. In 1948 Shmuel Rappaport was murdered by Lithuanians.


Rabbi Cahaniman migrated to Israel with his son in 1940. His family perished in Panevezys in the Holocaust. He established the big Panevezys Yeshiva in Bnei-Brak and also many public buildings and charity institutions.