The Kelm community was one of the first to establish a Hebrew elementary school. This school was established at the initiative of Tseirei Zion who later joined the Tarbuth network. Some time later the school, guided by teacher Akiva Vankhotsker (Yishai), became a Hebrew gymnasium consisting of two preparatory and five other classes. Some of its graduates continued their studies in the Hebrew high schools in Rassein (Raseiniai) and Shavl (Siauliai), but not many studied at the local Lithuanian high school. When the number of Jewish pupils in this school increased, the local rabbi K. Beinushevitz was appointed a teacher of the Jewish faith. Among the graduates of the Lithuanian high school in 1941, there were three Jews.
There was also a Hebrew kindergarten and a school for boys of the Yavneh network, with four classes and about 100 pupils. The graduates of this school also received governmental graduation certificates, which enabled them to be accepted in every high school. The headmaster of the Yavneh School was Lis who was succeeded by Likhtenshtein. Religious girls studied in the Shulamith School of the Yavneh network, which closed at the beginning of the 1930s. The Hebrew gymnasium was located in the same building. The Tarbuth and Yavneh schools officially had one headmaster. For many years the well-known educator Akiva Vankhotsker held this position, and he eventually became one of the founders of Ben-Shemen, a youth village in Eretz-Yisrael. In the mid-1930s a modern building was erected for the Tarbuth School, which was helped financially by the county committee. Most of the young people spoke Hebrew.
Also during this period there was a Talmud Torah Gadol (Great Talmud Torah) directed by Daniel Movshovitz and the Or Torah Yeshivah (the Small Yeshivah) under the direction of Shelomoh Pyanka. Due to these Yeshivoth the town of Kelm became famous in the entire Jewish world as a center of Torah instruction and pupils from the entire Diaspora studied there. The local religious youth organization Tifereh Bahurim with dozens of members was quite active, having its own club where they would gather for discussions and for lectures on Jewish issues.
Kelm had a Jewish library of Yiddish and Hebrew books. There was also a repertory group that performed shows for the purpose of raising money for various charities, such as buying heating fuel for the poor.
|The Hebrew pro-gymnasium in 1921|
Tifereth Bahurim branch in Kelm in 1933
(This and the next picture are courtesy of the Archives of the Association of the Lithuanian Jews in Israel)
Many of Kelm's Jews belonged to the Zionist camp and donated money to the national funds. All Zionist parties had branches in town. The results of the elections for the Zionist Congresses are given in the table below:
|Procession of Jewish children in Kelm|
Among the active Zionist youth organizations were the HaShomer-HaTsair; HeHalutz; HeHalutz HaMizrahi; Hehalutz Haklal Zioni; Betar and other movements. There was also the Sirkin Society (the Z. S. party) which had its own club. Near the town Gordonia established a training kibbutz and in the town itself there existed an urban kibbutz of HeHalutz (1934). The branch of Agudath Yisrael in Kelm leased a farm in the vicinity and established a training kibbutz for Tseirei Agudath Yisrael. There was also a training kibbutz of Hehalutz Haklal Zioni named HaBoneh (1935).
Some of the local youth joined these training kibbutzim in order to emigrate to Eretz-Yisrael. Many of them achieved this goal and joined the kibbutzim Givath-Brenner, Afikim, Yagur, Degania, Dafna and others. Others emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael together with Dr. Lehman and the orphans of the orphanage in Kovno, and settled in Ben-Shemen.
Sports activities were carried out at the local Maccabi branch with its 38 members, and also at the HaPoel branch.
Most members of the local volunteer fire brigade were Jews, who also maintained a wind instruments band. The heads of the brigade were Eliezer Danin and Hayim Yevner.
Religion and Welfare
Religious life concentrated around the Shulhoif where all the prayer houses were located, and in which all activities of the Torah study societies took place. Rabbi Kalman Beinushevitz officiated from 1926. He was murdered together with his community in 1941.
The existing welfare institutions, Linath HaTsedek and Bikur Holim which were partial substitutes for a Jewish hospital, excelled in their activity during this period. The county committee partially financed the budget of Bikur Holim.
These are some of the personagess who were born in Kelm:
Simhah-Zisl Ziv-Broide (1824-1898), founder and head of the Talmud Torah Hagado
Mosheh-Yits'hak Darshan, HaMagid MiKelm (1828-1899), famous in all of Lithuania as a fiery orator who influenced many to improve their behavior
Aryeh-Leib Frumkin (1845-1916), rabbi, writer and Zionist public worker, who came to Eretz-Yisrael in 1883 and was one of the founders of Petakh-Tikvah
Elyakim Goldberg (born 1855), rabbi and doctor in Eretz-Yisrael, and later in America
Eliezer-Eliyahu Fridman (1858-1936), a Zionist public worker, published articles in HaMagid and in HaMelitz as well as several books, died in Tel-Aviv
Shifrah Waiss (1889-1955) poetess, active in the Bund in Russia and America
Zevulun Levin (1877-1935), a Yiddish writer in America
Aharon-Hirsh-Adolf Kurlender (born 1816), a religion teacher, moved to Vienna in 1870
Daniel Movshovitz (1887-1941), head of the Yeshivah Talmud Torah Hagadol, murdered in the Holocaust
M. Tsvik (1905-1938), a revolutionary who was detained in Lithuania, escaped to the Soviet Union where he was murdered by the government
B. Fridman-Latvis (born 1904), member of the popular Seim, fulfilled many functions in the Lithuanian Communist party and during Soviet rule in Lithuania
David Kohav (born 1929) a known economist in Israel, adviser to the World Bank
Yits'hak Mer (Meras), a writer who as a child was hidden by Lithuanians during Nazi rule and later published many books in Lithuanian about that period. Lives in Israel.
During World War II and Afterwards
In 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the factories, most of them owned by Jews, were nationalized. Jewish shops and farms were nationalized and commissars appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed. The religious institutions found their activities very much restricted. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt of this situation. The standard of living dropped gradually and some began to look for other income sources: one bought a cart and a horse, another a knitting machine and a third a loom.
The new rulers did not succeed in preventing anti-Semitic outbursts. At an election meeting for trade unions, which took place in Kelm in August 1940, anti-Semitic comments were heard, as a result of which the Jewish workers stood up and left the meeting.
On the day of the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union, the 22nd of June 1941, most of the Jewish houses in Kelm, including the old synagogue and the other prayer houses were burned down. Jews escaped to Jewish farms in the vicinity and to Lithuanian acquaintances. Many of those who tried to go northwards in the direction of Russia did not get very far, because the Germans preceded them. On the way back to Kelm, Lithuanian peasants murdered several Jews.
The Germans entered Kelm on the 26th of June, four days after the beginning of war, and Lithuanian rule was organized immediately to persecute the Jews. An order was issued according to which Jews had to leave Lithuanian houses and concentrate in Jewish farms. On the first of July an order was published to the effect that all Jewish men aged from 16 to 60 years old had to gather at the barn of Z. Luntz at the edge of the town. Before this these Jewish men were concentrated in the market square, and there a German made an anti-Semitic and poisonous speech proclaiming that Jews should be imprisoned in camps because they were to blame for the war. The barn, encircled by a barbed wire fence and Lithuanian guards, became a labor camp. The imprisoned, who were ordered to wear a yellow Magen David on their chests, were led every morning to various types of work, such as cleaning streets of the remnants of the burnt houses and burying the corpses of dead horses. While working, these Jews were maltreated and humiliated in many ways. Some Jews were murdered in the barn.
The Lithuanian guards ordered the Jews to collect all the holy books, Tefillin and Tallitoth which they had brought along and to burn all of them in the yard. Women, children, the elder and the ill were left on the Jewish farms without any guards. They were employed in agricultural work. The Lithuanian auxiliary police would burst onto the farms and rob at will.
At the beginning of July 1941, eleven men were led to a place near the Jewish cemetery and there they were forced to dig a pit, after which they were shot and buried there. At dawn on the 29th of July (5th of Av 5701), two armed Lithuanians appeared, asking for twenty young and healthy men for agricultural work for a peasant in a nearby village; they promised that the men would be treated well. Many believed them and volunteered, whereupon twenty-five young and healthy men were chosen. The Lithuanians led them to the sandpits near the Gruzhevsky estate where they were forced to dig a large pit and were then shot. The shots were heard in the camp, but its inhabitants did not realize the bitter truth. On that same day a hundred more Jews were taken out of the camp on different pretexts and led to the sandpits, where they too were killed. Only thirty-six men remained in the camp. On this day, the Jews of Vaigeve (Vaiguva) and many other Jews from the farms were also murdered there. All were forced to disrobe down to their underwear. Kelm's rabbi, Kalman Beinushevitz, who had escaped to Vaigeve at the beginning of the war, was brought to the murder site together with the town's Jews and was forced to kneel all day long near the pit and to watch the terrible extermination of his community. He was shot last. The head of the Yeshivah, Daniel Movshovitz, when standing with his pupils near the pits, asked the German commander to allow him to say a few words. The German agreed, and Daniel spoke to his pupils in a calm voice as though giving a regular lecture. Don't panic, he said, we have to accept the verdict quietly. He then turned to the German and said, I have finished, you may start.
The garments of the murdered were brought on carts to the yard of the Lithuanian high school and Jewish youth were forced to unload them and to put them into the cellar of the building. During the work they recognized the garments of their parents and relatives. In the evening at the hall of the high school, a big party for the murderers and their families was arranged. The murderers were seated at tables which had been set, and the Jewish youngsters were forced to carry boxes with beer bottles from a nearby shed and serve them to the peasants.
On the 22nd of August, 1941 (29th of Av 5701) the women and children from the farms were brought to the Luntz farm, and from there in groups to the sand pits where they were shot. The massacre continued all day.
Several tens of Jewish men and women managed to escape and were hidden by Lithuanian peasants in the vicinity. However, many were recaptured in a little while as a result of information provided by neighbors or by the peasants themselves. The latter wanted to acquire the property the Jews deposited with them.
A few Jewish young men, Ya'akov Zak and the brothers Holozhin, wandered through the villages. They were armed and managed to supply food for the hidden and to take revenge on the murderers. Just fifteen Kelm Jews managed to survive until liberation. In addition several Jews sought refuge in the Soviet Union. Two sisters hid in a monastery and were converted to Christianity.
According to Soviet sources a mass grave exists 2 km. (1 miles) north of the town and in it are the corpses of 483 men, women and children. According to a cartographic survey of Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania that was performed in 1991, a Jewish cemetery was found in the vicinity of Kelm, in the village Vaitkiskiai.
|The Mass Grave at the outskirts of Kelm|
After the war some Jews returned to live in Kelm, but their numbers decreased: 1n 1970 there were eleven Jews; in 1979, nine and in 1989 only four Jews.
At the beginning of the 1990s the remnant of the Broide-Ziv family erected a monument on the mass grave, bearing an inscription in Hebrew and Lithuanian (see above).
At the site of the destroyed Jewish cemetery stands a monument with a long inscription in Hebrew and a short one in Lithuanian.
|The monument at the massacre site with the inscription in Hebrew and Lithuanian: In memory of the scholars and residents of the town of Kelm and surroundings, who were murdered by the bloody Nazi scoundrels, damn them, in 5701 (1941). Immortalized by the remnant of the Broida-Ziv families of Kelm|
Yad Vashem Archives - M-1/E-1032/930; M-9/15/(6); Koniuhovsky collection 0-71, Files 44, 46, 47, 48
YIVO - New York, Lithuanian Communities Collection, Files 1008-1016,1677
Fridman, Eliezer Eliyahu, Memoirs 1858-1926 (Hebrew), Tel Aviv 1926
Kelm - A Cut Down Tree (Hebrew), edited by Ida Marcus-Karabelnik and Bath-Sheva Levitan-Karabelnik, published by The Association of Kelm Jews in Israel, Jerusalem 1993
The Story of an Underground (Hebrew) page 52 - Zwie A. Brown, M.A. and Dov Levin M.A., Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1962
Di Yiddishe Stime (Yiddish) - Kovno, 3.10.1919; 4.11.1919; 30.6.1920; 18.10.1920; 1.2.1922; 14.7.1922; 19.1.1923; 12.4.1923; 24.3.1931; 19.10.1931; 8.5.1935; 12.9.1938; 14.2.1939; 5.3.1939; 8.5.1939
Yiddisher Hantverker - Kovno, #2, 1938; #16
Folksblat (Yiddish) Kovno - 20.6.1935; 23.6.1935; 4.6.1937; 1.8.1938; 13.6.1939; 21.8.1940
Dos Vort Kovno - 17.12.1934
HaNe'eman -Telz, 1928, # 9
Funken - Kovno, # 26, 1931
HaTsofeh - Tel Aviv, 7.8.1940
Shearim, # 63, 3.4.1946
Komunistu Zodis (Lithuanian), Kelme, 11.6.1988
Naujienos (Lithuanian) Chicago, 11.6.1949
Lituanus (English), #27/3, 1981
A List of Donors from Kelm in 1896 for aid to Jewish Agrarians in Eretz-Yisrael
A List of Donors of Kelm for the Agudah Fund in 1913
Mordehovitz Aizik and Meir
Shmulevitz Ya'akov Meir
A List of Kelm Donors for the Settlement of Eretz-Yisrael
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)
|ABEL||Leib ben Kalman husband of Eirle Liubowitz||wed 11 Sivan - from Telsiai||Hamelitz #142||1897|
|ABRAMOVITZ||Dov Menashe||Hamelitz #123||1897|
|ABRAMOWITZ||Dov Menashe||Hamelitz #208||1895|
|ABRAMOWITZ||Dov Menashe||Hamelitz #142||1897|
|ANTIPOLSKI||Shmuel Chaim||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|BROIDA||Moshe father of Sarah||Hamelitz #112||1898|
|BROIDA||Sarah bas Moshe wife of Yitzchok Mordechailowitz||Hamelitz #112||1898|
|CHASID||Yehuda Leib||deceased||Hamelitz #240||1894|
|DRUZINSKI||Chaya bas Moshe wife of Chaim Tzvi Fridman from Girtagole (Girkalnis)||wed in Kelme 14 Elul||Hamelitz #229||1902|
|DRUZINSKI||Moshe father of Chaya||Hamelitz #229||1902|
|EITZIKZON||Pinchos||came from Africa||Hamelitz #123||1897|
|FEIWELZON||Eli Meir||Rabbi from Kelme appointed ABD Kruk||Hamelitz #123||1897|
|FINKELSHTEIN||Rivka bas Yedidia wife of Moshe Rabinowitz||wed 2 Shevat||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|FRIDMAN||Chaim Tzvi||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|GOLDBERG||Yosef ben Boruch||Hamelitz #132||1900|
|GRINBERG||Yakov husband of Rochel Shamshewitz from Kovno||Hamelitz #151||1898|
|GUTMAN||Chaim husband of Gitl Rostowski from Varna||wed in Varna||Hamelitz #123||1897|
|HAWSHA||Shmuel Yosef ben Reuven||Hamelitz #132||1900|
|HOROWITZ||Avraham Moshe||Hamelitz #137||1900|
|HOROWITZ||Avraham Moshe||Hamelitz H #137||1900|
|HORWITZ||Avraham Moshe Halevi||Hamelitz #208||1895|
|KAPLAN||Zev Yehuda||Shub||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|KESLER||Yakov Nachum||Hamelitz H #208||1895|
|KESLER||Yakov Nachum||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|KOSEL||Avraham Yitzchok||Hamelitz #123||1897|
|KOSSEL||Avraham Yitzchok||Hamelitz #229||1895|
|KREMER||Chaim Leib||Hamelitz #123||1897|
|LIUBOWITZ||Eirle wife of Leib Abel||wed 11 Sivan||Hamelitz #142||1897|
|LIWERMAN||Pesach father of Yakov||from Libau||Hamelitz #142||1897|
|LIWERMAN||Yakov ben Pesach fiance of Wital Yanower||from Libau||Hamelitz #142||1897|
|LUNTZ||Boruch||in Shillel||Hamelitz #249||1899|
|MIRVIS||Moshe Falk - listed with Shmuel Mordechai Zinger||in Baltimore, USA||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|MORDECHAILOWITZ||Yitzchok husband of Sarah Broida||Hamelitz #112||1898|
|MURINIK||Yosef Ari||Hamelitz #208||1895|
|ODWIN||Moshe ben Yakov Leib of Taurage husband of Rivka baszfon||wed||Hamelitz #201||1895|
|RABINOWITZ||father of Moshe||Rabbi from Wivokla||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|RABINOWITZ||Moshe son of Rabbi husband of Rivka Finkelshtein||wed 2 Shevat||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|RAPOPORT||Chana Libe bas Yona Raphel wife of Shmuel Mordechai Zinger||in Baltimore, USA||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|RAPOPORT||Fradil wife of Yona Raphel||in Baltimore, USA||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|RAPOPORT||Yona Raphel husband of Fradil father of Chana Libe||in Baltimore, USA||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|ROM||Moshe Eli||Hamelitz #229||1902|
|ROM||Moshe Eliahu||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|SHAPIRO||P brother of R||Hamelitz #208||1895|
|SHAPIRO||R brother of P||Hamelitz #208||1895|
|SHNITZ||Yosef Reuven||from Upyna||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|TERESPOLSKI||Tzvi||wed 6 Shevat||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|TZEITEL||Moshe Yitzchok||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|YANOWER||Eli father of Wital||Hamelitz #142||1897|
|YANOWER||Wital bas Eli fiancee of Yakov Liwerman||Hamelitz #142||1897|
|YEKUTIELI||Avraham Yitzchok||Hamelitz #208||1895|
|YOSELOWITZ||Devorah||wed 6 Shevat||Hamelitz #56||1899|
|ZINGER||Dvora Ite wife of Eliahu||in Baltimore, USA||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|ZINGER||Eliahu husband of Dvora Ite father of Shmuel Mordechai||in Baltimore, USA||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|ZINGER||Shmuel Mordechai ben Eliahu husband of Chana Libe Rapoport||in Baltimore, USA||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|ZINGER||Yosef Yehuda Leib ben Shmuel Mordechai||in Baltimore, born 1884||Hamelitz #57||1897|
|ZIW||Menachem Mendel||Hamelitz #229||1902|
|ZOCHER||Shmuel Mordechai||Hamelitz #208||1895|
A List of Kelm Donors for the Victims of the Persian Famine in 1872
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania> HaMagid by Jeffrey Maynard)
|CHAYAT||Avraham ben Yakov||1872|
|GORDON||Ari Leib ben Meir||1872|
|GORDON||Meir||father of Ari Leib||1872|
|GROSS||Shmeril||father of Zevulun||1872|
|GROSS||Zevulun ben Shmeril||1872|
|KORKLAN||Tzvi Leib Katz||1872|
|NESHES||Sarah||bride of Tzvi||1872|
|WEINBERG||Yitzchok ben Chaim Moshe|
|YAWNA||Avraham||brother of Yosef||1872|
|YAWNA||Yosef||brother of Avraham||1872|
|Aharon bridegroom of Sheina||1872|
|Avraham ben Shalom||1872|
|Avraham ben Shlomo||1872|
|Chaim Yitzchok ben Avraham Noach||bridegroom||1872|
|Cheiga daughter of Yitzchok||1872|
|Eli ben Kopil||1872|
|Eliezer ben Eliezer||1872|
|Elimelech brother of Leizer||1872|
|Hille bridegroom of Fruma||1872|
|Kopil ben Moshe||1872|
|Leizer brother of Elimelech||1872|
|Mordechai ben Yisroel||gg||1872|
|Mordechai Moshe ben Aleksander||1872|
|Seime ben Yona||1872|
|Shimon ben Leib||bridegroom||1872|
|Yakov ben Shaul||1872|
|Yedidia ben Shraga||1872|
|Yehoshua ben Shalom||1872|
|Yekil ben Zev||1872|
|Yisroel ben Zalman||1872|
|Yitzchok||Rabbi, son-in-law of the Rabbi ABD||1872|
|Yoel ben Moshe||1872|
|Yona ben Ever||boy from Raseiniai (Rashin)...||1872|
|Yosef||son-in-law of Chaim||1872|
The above article is an excerpt from Preserving Our Litvak Heritage by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.
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