This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Lita: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Lithuania,
Editor: Prof. Dov Levin, Assistant Editor: Josef Rosin, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Notes on transliteration Yiddish names and words were transliterated according to YIVO rules. Hebrew was transliterated using a similar scheme and representing modern Israeli pronunciation. One notable difference between the transliterations is that Yiddish ח is transliterated as kh, the equivalent Hebrew sound (ח or כ) is transliterated as ch. Place names are given in the English text in their modern Lithuanian version and spelling to facilitate finding them on a map. However, where a particular spelling is established in English for a Hebrew or Yiddish word (e.g. Hasid), this was used rather than the strict phonetic transcription.
I wish to credit the selfless assistance given me by Bruria Toscano-Joffe, Joe Simon and Oron Joffe, who undertook the responsibility for all the computer work involved. They each devoted endless hours to editing and correcting the many mistakes and linguistic slips which cropped up.in the translation.
Lithuanian Jewry, which before the Holocaust constituted only 0.9% of world Jewry, was known throughout the ages as a center of Talmudic learning, unique and distinct and enjoying a high regard. It carried great weight, even in comparison with other neighboring Jewish centers which arose in Poland, Russia, the Ukraine and Galicia. Whereas the latter were mostly motivated by emotion and enthusiasm, the rationalistic and positivist approach was the outstanding feature of Lithuanian Jewry. The term Litvak was given them for good reason, not only were they named Litvak, but also Cross Head (or Tzelem Kop Christian Cross Head) implying in incisive language that their willingness to strive, whether directly or indirectly (like the shape of a cross, horizontal and vertical, G-d have mercy upon us) to achieve their aim, or alternatively, to criss-cross their results, in order to reach the absolute truth. This was manifest not only in the daily life, but also and primarily so in the nature of phenomena, movements and schools of thought in social-economic matters, namely, in their negation of the false Messiah, their opposition to Hasidism, their devotion to Torah study, adoption of the Gaon of Vilna method, the founding and promotion of the Musar movement and their fostering of pure Zionism, as well as theories for the welfare of the masses and nations, etc.
It should also be remembered that Lithuanian Jewry, including the scholars and students who crowded the cities, towns and distant villages, were mostly manual laborers or even poverty stricken. Most worked at any and all trades for their own needs or for the benefit of the general public. They were millers, bakers, tailors and cobblers, saddlers, plasterers and glaziers, smiths and wagon drivers, porters and engaged in other occupations whereever needed in the land of Lithuania. Many of them were occupied in forestry and work involving wood, some, with water and rivers, including building built rafts and floating them down the rivers and streams. Growing vegetables and even fishing was in Jewish hands. As Avraham Kariv points out in his essay Lithuania my Homeland. Shopkeeping too, which generally providing poor rewards, a form of labor no less than called for in other trades was also included. On the other hand, there were well-to-do Jews in Lithuania, but they did not set the tone of the place. Jewish society was a poverty stricken tribe, and like all tribal societies, the hundreds of communities large and small which make up the backbone of this book, were communities both wretched and poor, without splendor or external glory. But they were possessed of an inner rich spirit and an inner beauty. It was actually these little communities which received a great deal of attention from the editor and the team of assistants, who were fearful that they would be entirely forgotten since they have been emptied of their Jews and all trace has been lost.
The worry that with time they will be forgotten and pass into oblivion was but one of the fears that accompanied us in the preparation of this, the fifteenth volume in the series about the Jewish communities in Europe, destroyed during the Second World War, and which is devoted, as mentioned above, to Lithuanian Jewry.
The term, Lithuanian Jewry, as it is commonly understood and used in history, applies to the population that inhabited over many generations, by and large, the wide flung areas of historic Lithuania. At its greatest (in the 14th century) the state took in huge areas from the Baltic sea to the Black sea, in other words, many times the size of the independent Lithuania which was created anew after the First World war, and which has existed, with interruptions, to this day.
The geo-political framework of this book consists of independent Lithuania, as it existed between the two World Wars. Kovno (Kaunas) was its capital and it was even called at that time Kovne Lithuania. This definition is an outcome of the decision adopted by the Yad Vashem Memorial Communities Records to base them on the political borders of the countries when the war broke out on September 1st 1939. The problem lies in the fact that the city of Vilna (Vilnius, the ancient capital and also the present one), was returned within the Lithuanian borders only on October 30 of that year, after 19 years of Polish rule, and therefore this volume cannot include this important and famous community known from the days of yore and which was in fact liquidated. Therefore, the communities of Vilna, Trakai, Svencionys and others in the area will be included, according to plan, in one of the Memorial Records devoted to Poland. This is true also of other communities in historic Lithuania, of the 16th-18th centuries, such as Brisk, Pinsk, Grodno (Horodna), Slutzk and others.
As all the above communities were an almost inseparable part of historic Lithuania, we mention them again and again, particularly Vilna, in the introduction to this volume. We included, within this volume, a group of communities in the Memel district (Klaipeda), which, for most of the period between the two world wars, was part of Lithuania and was returned to it after the war.
The fact that for three hundred years historic Lithuania was interwoven in one way or another with neighboring Poland, led to the result that most of the researchers who estimated the size of the Jewish population in this area considered Poland/Lithuania as one demographic unit. The many censuses taken, national and regional, intended also for purposes of taxation of the Jewish population, made it possible to estimate approximately the number of Jews in ethnic Lithuania, which covers an area roughly of 70,000 sq. km. from the east to the Baltic Sea and the main part being the Samogitia region and the basin bound by the Neman and Neris (Vilija) rivers, settled mostly by Lithuanian nationals.
The Essence of the Introduction
Whereas we included in the book Jewish communities and settlements lying within the borders of independent Lithuania only, we widened the introduction to include within the related framework historic Lithuania as well as ethnic Lithuania as defined above. In addition, we attempted to include all the relevant regional facts mentioned, putting an emphasis on the regions which in the past constituted independent Lithuania, such as: part of the district Novo-Alexandrovsk (later called Ezereni or Zarasai), parts of the district of Vilna region, 5 districts of the Suvalki region, a small part of Courland region, and in 1923 1939 also the Memel region.
We paid particular attention to the Kovno region (42,000 sq. km. out of 55,000 sq. km. which constituted independent Lithuania), which was, during the Russian occupation, from the middle of the 19th Century onwards a separate administrative unit. This district alone contained in 1897 some 82% of all the Jews living in the territory which became the independent state of Lithuania twenty years later. Post factum, the Kovno district constituted a sort of common element, both ethnic and geographical, between historic Lithuania and independent Lithuania between the two World Wars. Hence, it became possible to compare relevant statistical data with regard to various factors which affected considerable parts of Lithuanian Jewry with the changes in government and frontiers over approximately one hundred years.
On the assumption that the task of the introduction to this book is not to explain the reasons for these events but rather to review and portray them factually and chronologically, we limited ourselves in our introduction to give only a limited description of most of the essential facts. Furthermore, our knowledge of a number of subjects and their time scale is very thin and sporadic. For this reason we do not claim that this book and this introduction constitute the full story of Lithuanian Jewry these have not yet been written and await their rescuer.
The introductory chapters give a chronological account of the history of Lithuania and its Jewry. They mostly deal with specific periods taking the dating from particular events or unique processes resulting from these events, as per example: 1569, the date of Polish-Lithuanian unification (The Lublin Union), an event which changed the status of Lithuania and put it onto a new road of economic and social development; the year 1648, the year when the Cossacks rose in revolt (and leading to the Khmelnitzky massacres which took place in 1648 and 1649), and which shocked Lithuanian Jewry; 1795, when ethnic Lithuania was absorbed into Russia; 1915, the expulsion of the majority of Jews to the interior Russian areas when the remaining ones fell under the occupation of the German Kingdom; 1918, the founding of independent Lithuania with Jewish assistance and the flowering of the Jewish community until the Second World War; 1940, absorption of Lithuania into the Soviet Union and the consequences for the Jews and the final chapter (in both senses of the word), the Nazi conquest in 1941 which finally brought Lithuanian Jewry to a close, except for some remnants and survivors who, by inertia, still exist and still carry the smells of the crematoria to this day. The finale has been written on this great Jewry.
It is possible to state therefore that the introduction serves in a way as a concise history of Lithuanian Jewry, from the first settlement there to its final denouement. Basically, the introduction is intended for those who may wish to look into an item in order to understand the events mentioned. The reference to the period of the Holocaust within the framework of this introduction is in a shortened and concise form as we wished to avoid duplication. Within the framework of most entries, this period is treated in detail. Particularly when we deal with the large Jewish centers Kovno and Shavli. (Siauliai).
Community - a definition
Most of the terms included in this book relate to the term communities. As it is commonly understood, a community is defined as an organic part of a conurbation with local government of the Jewish public centered generally around a local rabbi or some other personality. Over hundreds of years, the community had power over every aspect of public and personal life including religious practice, care for the security of the individual and property, and obligation for mutual help. To achieve these ends special organizations were founded such as loan societies, educational frameworks, synagogues, ritual baths and graveyards. Also, regulations were enacted dealing with various issues, taxes were exacted, law courts were established and means of enforcement and punishment established. This independence a sort of state within a state existed in the past and well into modern times, including the period between the two worlds wars.
But herein lies a problem. During those years the number of Jews in Kovner Lithuania diminished, and it was therefore decided to include communities in this book only if they had at least a Minyan (quorum of ten) Jews according to the 1923 census. In spite of the aforesaid, little communities were noted in this book. These were villages and agricultural estates where Jewish families had lived for generations, but, because of the lack of communal services, leaned on neighboring communities for their religious and other facilities. Therefore, we found it appropriate to mention at least the names of these communities, even though some of them do not fall within the criteria of communities, considering that this may be an opportunity to save from oblivion the name of a community where Jews had lived some time in the past.
The entries and their composition.
Each entry in this book gives the history of the Jewish community from its beginning up to its destruction or reduction as a result of the great Shoah, which the Jews suffered during the Second World War. Most entries were divided into three periods, namely: a) the history of the Jews from the earliest settlement until the end of the First World War, including their organization in a community, economic and social life, spiritual life, political life etc; b) the history of the community between the two wars, or to be more precise, in the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) and c) the history of the community during the Second World War and the aftermath, while distinguishing two sub periods: Soviet rule (1940-1941) and the Nazi conquest period and the Shoah (1941-1944). After that, at the end of the entry, is given as far as possible, updated information in brief about Jews who survived the Shoah in that place. As for smaller entries, we limited ourselves to a division into two periods only: up to the Second World War and afterward. The short entries are given without any division. In addition to the division in chronological order, the large and medium entries are divided also into sub entries according to subject matter.
The allocation of space for each of the separate periods was a result of the amount of material in our hands, in most cases the findings constituted a sort of diamond shape, with the top containing details of the first Jews in the community, and the widest part containing material about the Jews between the two World Wars, while the base deals with the fate of the last Jews in the community.
In the body of the introduction we gave a short summary of the community itself, the geographical location, history, ethnic and religious connections and special or distinctive characteristics. After that a chronological review is given of the history of the community. Its importance or the length of time of existence determines the extent of the entry or its length, but it is also dependent on the amount of relevant material available.
As the Record of Communities does not replace the various Yizkor books (Record of Remembrance) we did not include experiences of individuals. Indeed, we did not often mention names of individuals except in cases where we dealt with individuals who made a great impact on the life of the community. We also attempted to keep to a general description of events, which were of importance to the public at large. Consequently, we did not include a full list of rabbis who served the communities. In general, we limited ourselves to mentioning those whose importance reached out beyond the framework of their communities, whose writings had been published and who perished in the Shoah together with their flocks. This is true too of ex-Lithuanian personalities whose fame derived from their achievements in the fields of literature, science and other fields. Their names and the names of ordinary Jews are to be found in the Yad Vashem archives under the numbers 0-57, open to the public.
The opposite is also true the entries do not include the names of the Lithuanian murderers and others who committed heinous crimes against their Jewish neighbors in most of the communities. Anyone interested in detailed information on this subject may find both names and other information in the dossiers to be found in the Simon Wiesenthal center in Jerusalem or in the Leib Koniuchovsky collection held in the Yad Vashem archives under reference no. 0-71 and also in the Lithuanian communities folders (as mentioned above) in the 0-57 collection. An additional collection is in the recorded interviews with hundreds of Lithuanian Jews of their experiences during the Shoah and as well as the periods before and afterward. These are to be found in the collection no.12 in the Department of Oral Documentation in the Contemporary Jewish Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, collections E/3-4, E1 7-21, and E 17a.
As in other Records of Communities in this edition, and naturally, full and adequate space is devoted to the history and fate of the community during the great calamity. In addition, in order to understand the better what had happened and the meaning of the losses suffered by Lithuanian Jewry in population, materially and spiritually, a concise description is also given of the diverse life in the communities in the period before the Shoah. A few lines only were devoted to what transpired to the survivors of the Shoah, the reason is that generally only remnants remained of these communities. But excluded from the above are a number of communities (Kovno, Shavli), where greater numbers of survivors tended to concentrate after the Shoah. In these cases the finale in the Entry was indeed expanded. It must be noted though that the facts quoted should be seen as frozen in time in an ever-changing dynamic situation. The reason for this is generally the immigration of the veterans to the State of Israel and the inflow of the newcomers from the inner parts of the (now dissolved) Soviet Union. Further details and explanations are to be found in the latter part of the introduction. It may well be that a number of small communities which were in a process of disintegration during the writing of the Entry, no longer exist.
In the entry Kovno we exceeded the norm we had established for ourselves in order to give expression to the growing centrality of this community and we included, in this entry, advisedly, material already found in the introduction.
In the Hebrew Text, entries are listed in alphabetical Hebrew order. The Hebrew names are transliterated from Yiddish (rather than from the Lithuanian names!) or are as they appear in the Jewish sources. At the head of each entry appears the place name, first in transliteration and then in Lithuanian. This is followed, in brackets by name, written in Yiddish, and often in German, Russian or Polish. Places whose Lithuanian name is completely different from the Jewish one (such as Ukmerge/Vilkomir), are listed again under the Lithuanian name (in its proper alphabetic place), referring the reader to the main entry, which is always the Jewish one. Under the Entry name appear the district and the province (out of 23 districts and 367 provinces in Lithuania in 1935), the community was in. Naturally, the vast majority of the communities were in district cities and provincial towns (that is, in the towns that served as administrative centers for the district or province). In a small number of tiny communities, we were forced to limit ourselves due, to paucity of material, to mentioning just their names, according to the Hebrew or Yiddish spelling.
Generally, each entry begins with a table of changes that had taken place over the years in the size of the population, both Jewish and Gentile, followed by the relative part of the Jews in the total population. The statistical facts were derived from various sources and therefore are not comparable as to source or date. In cases of differences in the data we acted according to the best of our ability and after taking advice from experts. After that, the entry is given as outlined above, according to periods, and at the end a number of sources, special for the entry. A general bibliography is given separately at the end of the introduction.
We have to add something about the value of the official currency of independent Lithuania. The Litas's value was initially $0.10 (in other words, each dollar fetched 10 Litas). After the devaluation of the dollar the Litas was worth $0.60, for instance on November 14, 1934 the dollar was sold on the Kovno Stock Exchange for 5.90-5.94 Litas. A Pound Sterling was sold the same day for 29.70-29.75 Litas.
As for other measurements used to measure land: a Disyatina is equivalent to 1,092 hectares, a hectare being approx. 10 Dunams. Weight of grains etc in Lithuania (as elsewhere) was measured in Pud, equal to 16.3 kg.
The foundations for the study of Lithuanian Jewry were laid at the end of the 19th century with the publication of various archival sources by S.A. Bershadsky, and sections from the state record or the record of the chief communities in Lithuania by Shimon Dubnov, A.A. Harkavi and others.
We still do not have enough material on the development of the Jewish community in Lithuania during the 17th century. Also missing, is a clear historical explanation for the growth and development of the community in Lithuania, which grew according to its own inner logic within the special ethnic, religious, economic and social spheres. We know little of the development in the economic and social life in the first part of the 18th century. Research on the history of the Jews in the 19th century is slightly better off, partly through the research done by Ya'akov Leszczinski, Yisrael Kloizner, Meir Wishnitzer and others, and added to from other sources particularly statistical ones.
As for the numbers quoted in the introduction and the entries, it should be noted that they should not be considered as truly statistical since they are far from exact at least up to the middle of the 19th century. In the absence of accurate data, use was made of what was available for general orientation and in order to illustrate trends of change in economics, demography etc. In a few cases we were able to base ourselves on official Lithuanian government figures between the two World Wars, such as the annual economic review for 1931 and the 1939 telephone directory which appeared just before the outbreak of the war. To produce the relevant material relating to Jews required finding family and personal names of Jews and doubt sometimes arose as to whether the owner of a particular name was actually Jewish. In this way it was possible to collect information about Jews' businesses in their home towns, based on a survey conducted by the Lithuanian Government in 1931, in which shops were graded 1-5 by size, and factories which employed at least 5 workers as well as the number of Jews in each locality who possessed a telephone.
In addition to chronicles and written documents from various Lithuanian townships, which were published in print in the course of the second part of the 19th century, more general reviews were also published, such as Letters from Zamut (Hamelitz, No.77, 1870); Notes Regarding the History of Our People in Lithuania (Hamelitz, No. 10, 1881); Letters from Western Lithuania (Hamelitz, No. 96, 1883) and others. Articles and reviews concerning some 60 towns appeared in the Kovno Daily Folksblat over the years 1934-1936.
Almost all the communities, as well as some of the organizations and associations (including craftsmen's guilds) kept written records of decisions agreed to in the meetings, rules, tax estimates, important actions taken, historic events and various matters which were characteristic of the life of the Jewish community over the generations, and recorded in a special ledger. Unfortunately, few of these ledgers have survived, as most of them were burned or lost during the First World War and the rest were destroyed during the Shoah. Amongst the few ledgers still available and which are a source of information for the history of the community, particular note should be taken of the one entitled The State Ledger of the major communities in the State of Lithuania. This refers to the collection of regulations and judgments published by this committee for the period 16231761, printed by Shimon Dubnov in Petersburg in 1912 from a manuscript found in Grodno with addenda and textual variations made in the copying of the ledger in Brisk and Vilna. The rich contents of this Ledger provides a picture of events and problems which affected the Jews of Lithuania over a period of at least 138 years and also of the nature of activities carried out by this high Jewish institution namely, the committee of the major communities of the Lithuanian State (henceforththe committee of the Lithuanian State or in short, the committee). Since the borders of the rule of this committee included ethnic Lithuania (the Samogitia area and more) and its influence was felt for many generations, we found it necessary to expand the information on this institution in the introduction. We acted in the same manner in dealing with Writs of Privilege, such as those granted by Prince Vytautas.
At the end of each entry the sources we relied upon when writing an entry are listed, particularly when the source was specific to that community. However, general and comprehensive publications covering most of the communities were listed in the Bibliography at the end of the introduction. Such general sources are, for example, the four volumes of Lithuanian Jewry; the first volume of The Lithuanian Collection; the three volumes of the Small Lithuanian Soviet Encyclopedia (Vilna 1966-1971), thirty two volumes of the Encyclopedia of Lithuania ((Boston 19531965), two volumes of collection of documents, Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (mass murder in Lithuania), sixteen volumes of the Hebreiskaya Encyclopedia and last but not least, the monumental work by Berl Cohen, Cities, Towns and Village Communities in Lithuania before 1918 (New York 1992).
Being one who fortunately survived the Lithuania awash with Jewish blood, and as one who has spent over thirty years in research on Lithuanian Jewry, I am grateful to the directorate of Yad Vashem who entrusted me with the publication of this Record. My sincere thanks to the team cooperating in this task: to my my companion in arms, who, with me, fought with the partisans against the Nazis, engineer Josef Rosin, who in addition to writing the major number of entries (the small ones do not carry his name) also carried out with exactitude and devotion a number of responsible tasks as assistant editor. My good friend Dr Shmuel Spector, head of the Yad Vashem Community Records Department, who accompanied the whole process of the publication of this record, and proposed important alterations to chapter 3 of the introduction. Esther Haku, of the above department, who put so much effort into the preparation of the material for printing and even after she was no longer working, nevertheless continued to lend of her rich experience. Bracha Freundlich, her close friend, who continued her work with great devotion and last but not least to member of the team Rafi Yulius who, in addition to his attention to the linguistic editing also added of his rich experience in the constructing of the record and also wrote 16 entries. My thanks to Dr Yehoshu'a Freundlich, who prepared the index to places and names appearing in this volume and saw to their identification.
High-level professional advice was provided by Professor Moshe Sikron, who kindly checked the statistical-demographic material in the introduction. Hayim Eitan prepared the three maps in the Record, and made sure to display all the information needed. Engineer Leib Koniuchovsky from Florida, kindly shared with us the hundreds of records of evidence he took from Shoah survivors in Lithuania in the 1940's. Documents and photographs were put at our disposal by Rachel Levin-Rozentsvaig, director of the central archives of the history of the Jews in Lithuania in the Association of Immigrants from Lithuania in Yisrael and by Levinson of the Jewish museum in Vilna. Professor Eliezer Eizenbud brought me from abroad the multi-use Lithuanian encyclopedia. Engineer Grisha Birman gave me the last telephone directory of independent Lithuania of 1939. Hayim Bargman of Kovno regularly sent me newspaper cuttings, containing important information about Jews in the Lithuanian townships. Dr Harold Roth (a descendent of the Neviazhski family of Lithuania) president of the Jewish Genealogical Society in Washington sent me inventory books which appeared between the years 1880 in the previous century until the 30's of the present century.
Mr Michael Tal of the Department of Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem kindly passed on to us pictures of a number of synagogues which had survived and were photographed by a departmental delegation in the summer of 1993. Boris Kaplan of Vilna sent important us material.
I was greatly assisted by the staff of the Yad Vashem archives and especially so by Hadassah Modlinger, Naomi Halperin, Yehudit Levin, Esther Aran, Meira Idelstein, Bella Kirshner, Dan Uziel and by the staff of the YIVO archives in New York, headed by Marek Webb and Dina Abramovitch. Many thanks to the historian Mordekhai Nadav, the writer Yisrael Kaplan and Shmuel Ron who assisted me in many ways and thanks to the writers of the entries: Dr Nathan Cohen and Mrs Esther Etinger, Miriam Nir and Nehama Kaufman.
My blessings to Yishai and the employees of the Achva printing shop who gave of their efforts and their skills.
Finally, and most importantly, many thanks to the reader who will look into this record and let me have comments and added facts and will send these to the parties responsible for the publishing of this volume at Yad Vashem.
Prof. Dov Levin
The son of Zvi-Hirsh Levin and Bluma, née Vigoder
And twin sister of Batya Levin
Who perished in the Shoah.
NB: the page numbers below relate to the Hebrew book. This section needs to be updated to reflect the translated copy.
|Association of Lithuanian Jews, Tel Aviv||389|
|Yad Vashem Archive, Jerusalem||526|
|Center for Jewish Art, Hebrew University of Jerusalem||476|
|Zalman Bloch, Migdal Ha'emek||423|
|Gofer Family, Kiryat Bialik||549|
|Hayim Galin, Kiryat Bialik||552|
|Sarah Weiss, Haifa||205|
|Eliezer Zilber, Ashdod||161|
|Cohen-Milner Family Nathania||372|
|Dov Levin, Jerusalem||553|
|Netes Family, Tel Aviv||506|
|Ernest Klee, Frankfurt||544|
|Klibansky Family. Tel Aviv||90|
|Josef Rosin, Haifa||573|
|Shtukarevitz Family, Tel Aviv||66|
|Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem|
|Yivo Archives, New York.|
|Oshri-Oshri, Efraim, Lithuania destroyed, New York- Montreal, 1951|
|Gotlib, Ohalei Shem-Gotlib, Shmuel,-Noah, Ohalei Shem Book, Pinsk 1912|
|YeKoPo Report-Shalit, Moshe (editor) on the ruins of war and riots, record by regional committee, Vilna 1919-1930, תרצ”א|
|Yizkor Book, Rakishok-Bakaltshuk-Felin Melach (editor), Yizkor Book for Rakishok and surroundings, Johannesburg, 1952.|
|Lithuania-Lite, Volume by M. Sudarski et al, New York 1951, Volume Two, edited by Kh. Leikovits, Tel Aviv 1965|
|Cartographic survey- Lietuvos Respublikos Teritorijoje Kartografuoti|
|Zydu Kulto Pastatai ir Kiti Objektai Vilna 1990|
|Kamzon- Kamzon, יד Lithuanian Jewry, Jerusalem, 1958/9|
|Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (1941- 1944) Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje|
|Dokumentu Rinkinys, Vilna 1965 1973 (2 Vols.)|
Part 1: Lithuania from the end of the 13th century
until the end of the 20th century
Lithuania (in Lithuanian Lietuva, in Polish Litwa, in Russian Litva, in German Litauen, in Yiddish Lite and in English Lithuania) is the southernmost and the largest of the three Baltic states lying on the eastern Baltic sea coast. On the northern border lies Latvia, to the east lies White Russia (Belarus). Poland lies to the south and in the west, Eastern Prussia. ruled by Russia. The capital Vilna (Vilnius) is in the eastern part of the country. In the relatively higher eastern region called Aukstaitija (also known as Austechia) is an area rich in lakes (enclosing some 4% of the land) and huge dense forests (34% of the country). The western part of Lithuania is lower and borders on the Baltic Sea. It is called Zamut (or Zhamot), in Lithuanian Zemaitija and in other languages Samogitia or Zmudz). This area, which constituted the nucleus of ethnic Lithuania was known over hundreds of years as a political and social unit. The river Nevezys divides the two regions. Most of Lithuania (65,000 sq. km. in 1994) drains into the Nemunas River, which flows from the east with its tributaries. The largest one of these, the Neris ( Vilija) joins it in the center of the country in the area of the second largest city, Kovno or Kaunas. The population of Lithuania numbers 3,752,000, and 80% of these are ethnic Lithuanians, related to the Indo-European stock. The origin of the Lithuanian language appears to be in ancient Sanskrit.
A) From the 13th century until the first division of Poland (1772)
In common with the other Baltic nations, the inhabitants of the Zamut region were pagans almost until the end of the Middle Ages. Their unification into a strong military and political entity was the result of their constant wars with the German crusader order who attempted to force them into the Christian fold. These wars intensified after the Livonian Order (the Knights of the Sword) united with the Teutonic Knights in 1237. At the same time, the Lithuanians also fought the eastern Russian princedoms and conquered much of their land. This trend continued and even grew during the rule of the great prince Gediminas (1316-1341), in whose time the capital of Lithuania was moved to Vilna.
Important change in the status and power of Lithuania developed in the days of the reign of two great princes: Witold (or Vytautas) (1392-1430) and Jagello (Jogaila) (1377-1392). Witold extended the borders of the Kingdom eastwards towards Smolensk and South to the Black Sea. The Tartars prevented further expansions. In his day, Lithuania or in its formal name, The Duchy of Lithuania (Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae) covered some one million square kilometers. The population in the areas under his rule consisted mainly of Slavs, while the Lithuanians in all this territory made up only some 10% of the total. Witold also paid much attention to the development of the cities in his dukedom, granting them Royal Charters, and invited merchants and craftsmen from abroad to come and settle in his land. After his cousin Jagello converted to Christianity (in 1386) and was crowned in Poland, the two states united in a personal union. His example was followed by most of the Lithuanians, headed by the Boyars (in Lithuanian Bajorai) who constituted the nobility and owners of the estates. The latter, as well as the Catholic priests and their institutions, were granted special rights and exemption from most of the civilian duties.
The conversions and joint political interests prepared the ground for collaboration between the Polish Catholic State and Lithuania. This collaboration came to a successful head when, in 1410, the combined armies decisively defeated the crusaders of the Teutonic order near Grunwald-Tanenberg. The power of this German enemy, who had threatened both countries over a long period of time, was thus finally broken.
The obligatory connection of the peasants to the land and their subjection to the Boyars as serfs began during the rule of the King of Poland and the Great Prince of Lithuania Kazimir the Great (1444-1492) a system that lasted for hundreds of years.
After Kazimir's death, one of his sons was elected to the throne of Poland, and another, Alexander Yagieloni became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. In 1501, Alexander was also crowned King of Poland. It was also decided at that time that the two countries will remain united under the rule of one man (in other words, a personal union). This arrangement continued also during the reign of the other Yagiela family members: Zigmunt (Sigismund ?) the First, or The Old Man (1506-1548) and Zigmunt (Sigismund ?) the Second also known as Zigmun August (1548-1572). During his reign, in 1569, the Sejms (parliaments) of Poland and of Lithuania met in Lublin and adopted the resolution known as the Union of Lublin, meaning a full union of the two states. The new State was now called the Polish Republic (Rzeczpospolita).
After the signing of the Union of Lublin, Lithuania underwent an accelerated period of economic and social development. A joint Sejm was established for the two states and the Lithuanian nobility was granted economic and political rights enjoyed by the Polish noblemen. Within a short time the Lithuanian nobility assimilated the mannerisms and practices of the Polish nobility. All, without exception, and particularly those called the Magnates (in Lithuanian Didikai) took possession of large estates and extensive lands to which the peasantry was bound. They also took on high positions in the government and the church. A number of families amongst them stood out, e.g. Oginski, Tizenhaus, Sapyega, Plater, Tishkevitz and Pototski..
In Poland and in Lithuania the District (in Polish Wojewodztwo and in Lithuanian Vaivadija) was defined as the essential unit for administrative purposes, headed by a Governor (in Polish Wojewoda and in Lithuanian Vaivada). Below that stood the sub-district (in Polish Powjat and in Lithuanian Pavietis). At the head of this sub-district or any other such administrative unit stood a Starosta (in Lithuanian Seniunas). The districts of Vilna, Troki (in Lithuanian Trakai) as well as the sub-district Samogitia constituted the ethnic Lithuania. The Starosta of Zhamut was of equal status as a Voivoda (Vaivada). In addition, the Lithuanian Duchy included the districts of Minsk, Vitebsk, Novogrudek, Polotsk, Polesia (Brisk in Lithuania) etc. Whereas the Wolyn area, Podolia and Kiev were transferred to the Polish kingdom, Lithuania continued to enjoy home rule, headed by a Kanzler (secretary), with its own financial administration and a special coin (Lithuanian Shok, valued at 60 Lithuanian Grush or 2.5 Polish gold coins). They also had a separate army with a Lithuanian Hetman (commanding officer) at its head. In the Kanzlerei (the Secretariat) they took care to preserve the state documents (mostly written in Belarussian) in a framework called The Lithuanian Metric (Litovskaya Metrika), which was in fact the archives of the Grand Duchy.
The framework of a civil legal system, that had been in operation sometime, remained under the name Lietuvos Statutas. It based itself largely on legal precedents, Bills of Rights and the practices of the Lithuanian aristocracy. In the hundreds of laws and regulations and the procedural decisions, both criminal and public, which were published in three volumes of this collection (1529, 1566 and 1588), expression is given to the expanding status of the nobility with their castles and estates-on the one hand, and the continuing dispossession of the peasants and the serfson the other hand.
In addition to the two classes mentioned, namely the nobility and the peasantry, there was also a third rank - the town folk, generally referred to as the burghers. These were the merchants, some of them organized in guilds, craftsmen and artisans, mostly according to their specialty in what was called Chekhs. All these classes, including the townsmen fought endlessly to safeguard their own interests. Against this background much depended on the attitude adopted by the Starosta, appointed by the King over an area or over a another royal domain.
At the time of the Union with Poland, the economic reality of Lithuania was very different. The population was sparse and agricultural practice primitive. It had a primitive autarchic economy, producing and supplying almost entirely for its own needs. Excess production was miniscule and as a result, export was limited to a small number of items such as hides, furs and honey.
Lithuania was a feudal country in those days and in the coming centuries, and the majority of the population continued, as in the past, to live off agriculture, the raising of stock and fowl, fishing in the rivers and lakes, forestry and such like. Few (especially the Jews) kept inns and engaged in petty trade (pedlars) and dealt with import and export of agricultural output. Very few (mostly ones close to the administration) got the right to collect taxes and customs duties. Mercantile activities in the early stages took place near the nobility's estates. Afterwards, particularly from the 15th century onwards, towns grew on crossroads and river estuaries. They were used also as regional administrative centers.
Parallel with the political and social developments, the union with Poland also spurred on economic development. In order to encourage the development of urban areas and to widen their economic activities, previous Lithuanian rulers gave foreign merchants, particularly German ones, Rights equivalent to those given in the city of Magdeburg. These privileges known as the Magdeburg Rights enabled them to organize their activities in the Lithuanian cities on the German model (magistrat) to pass their own regulations, have their own judiciary, decide on the scope and scale of their trade, levy taxes etc. After the Lublin Union the number of these rights grew greatly as did other arrangements, such as the right to have regional market days or fairs. These arrangements lasted for hundreds of years, until the Grand Duchy of Lithuania came to an end. Until the 18th century, city rights were granted in Lithuania (according to the 1994 borders) to 83 settlements and various commercial rights were granted to 87 settlements. In fact there was little difference between a city and a town.
The commercial activities between the cities and centers of commerce and ports abroad e.g. Moscow, Warsaw, Memel (Klaipeda), Konigsberg (Kaliningrad), Libau (Liepaja), Riga were greatly assisted by the waterways and sailing routes, which improved from the 16th century onwards. These included the export of flax, grains, live fowl, beasts, milk products and wood floated down on the Neman and its tributaries. Of great importance was the King's highway from Kovno to Riga which passed through Kedainiai and Shavli, and the route from Petersburg to Warsaw which passed through Kovno. At the roadsides, at the obligatory connections, the crossroads, stood inns for the travelers convenience where spirits, food and other necessities could be obtained. The monopoly to establish such way stations was granted to the nobility, the estate owners and the heads of monasteries, who passed the right on to others. In addition to rentals, the monopoly holders also demanded a special payment for the right to distil alcoholic drink and to sell it.
After the Union with Poland, the means of production became more sophisticated in many quarters. Amongst others, greater efficiency was introduced in the exploitation of forests and improved farming methods in the growing of grains. Another tendency was to move over to intensive farming instead of leasing out the land for a share of the crop.
There was a great development in united Lithuania in the internal political field. The reign of the rulers of the Polish Republic, some of whom were elected after internal battles within the nobility and as a result of intrigues with foreign elements, resulted in that from the end of the 16th century until the middle of the 18th century, some of the rulers of Lithuania were kings born in France of the Vasa (Vaza) dynasty (in 1571-1668), or of the Saxsonian dynasty (in 1696-1763), as well as others.
One of these rulers, Stephan Batori, made a great contribution to the cultural life of Lithuania and of the city of Vilna in particular when he founded the University of Vilna in 1579, under the title Academia et Universitas Vilnensis. Concurrently, Vilna was already known as an important commercial and political center. The High Court of Lithuania (Tribunal) began its activities in 1581.
In 1655, Vilna suffered greatly from the invasion of the army of Muscovite Czar Alexei who came to the assistance of the Bogdan Khmelnitzky hordes, after these revolted against Polish rule and destroyed Jewish communities (the 1648-1649 slaughter of the Jews by the Cossacks under Khmelnitzky). Soon afterwards the Swedes invaded the district of Samogitia and caused much damage to the local population and with a resulting outbreak of the Black Plague. The calamitous period ended in 1667, with the signing of a treaty with Czar Alexei in Andruszow The treaty was later known as the Peace of Andruszow. According to the agreement Moscow was given the Ukrainian land east of the Dnieper as well as the districts of Smolensk, Chernigov and others.
Greater damage to property and loss of life (including loss of taxes and duties) was caused to Lithuania by the forces of the Czar Peter the Great than by the King of Sweden, Karl the 12th during the War of the North (1700-1715). The economic situation in Lithuania deteriorated. Following these events, both the economic situation and the internal political one deteriorated due to endless struggles amongst competing groups of nobles who fought over various matters of religion, status etc. The Polish republic was weakened because of the wars in which it became involved with the neighboring states, Russia, Prussia and Austria.
B) Under Russian Czarist dominance
During the reign of the last Polish king August Poniatowski (1763-1795), the above states took steps to divide the lands of Poland and Lithuania between them. Actually, the division was made in three stages. In the first two stages, in 1772 and 1773, Russia was granted the areas of White Russia and Polesia, amongst others, which had previously belonged to Lithuania. In addition, Lithuania was forced to limit its army to 5,000 men. In the third stage, most of ethnic Lithuania was taken over by Russia (Vilna, Trokai, Novogrudek and the district of Samogitia) and the areas to the west of the Neman River went to Prussia. In 1807 these areas were included in the Duchy of Warsaw, which was created by Napoleon after his victory over Prussia, although, in 1812, Napoleon's army was defeated and decimated during its disastrous march in the invasion of Russia which passed through Lithuania. The population of the villages and towns trough which the army moved suffered heavily in property and person. In addition to the requisitioning of food and quarters and suchlike, the French administration also managed to establish a number of regulations and reforms in the field of civil-law (Codex Napoleon) in the spirit of the achievements of the French revolution. Some of these remained in force in the south western part of ethnic Lithuania on the left bank of the Neman, even after it was annexed to Russia and eventually became part of the district of Augustova.
By 1796 almost all the ethnic Lithuanian districts were included in a framework named the Lithuanian Gubernia (one of the 50 Gubernias of the Russian State), with Vilna as its capital. In 1801 the Lithuanian Gubernia was divided into two provinces or districts, the Lithuanian district of Grodno and the Vilna Lithuanian district. Within the latter were included 11 regions (Uyezdi). Each region consisted of a number of sub-regions (Volosti). Around the same time, while in the process of rearranging the administration anew, the use of family names was imposed on the inhabitants.
As Russian rule established itself, the local army was disbanded and compulsory draft instituted, particularly of the Cantonists (a levy placed on each Canton, for a specific number of youths to serve in the army). these were sent to serve in far off regions of Russia. The self-government of the towns was limited, but the nobility continued to enjoy privileges, such as ownership of serfs, and exemption from payment of taxes, exemption from serving in the army, and from bodily punishment. The administration reorganized as per the Russian model. The geographical administrative entity was now the Gubernia (province) headed by the head of the province, the Governor. In the provincial cities, separate high courts existed for the nobility, the merchants and the free peasantry.
A revolt of the Polish nobility broke out against Russia in 1831, and spread to parts of Lithuania. It was mainly the peasants and members of the lower nobility who joined in. After the suppression of the revolt the Czar carried the additional title of The Grand Duke of Lithuania. At the same time the Lithuanian Statute was abolished and the Russian regime was put in place. Also, the districts of Vilna and Grodno were no longer considered Lithuanian districts. On December 12th 1842, the district of Kovno was established west of Vilna, on an area of 40,188 sq. km. and it included the regions of Vilkomir, Telsiai, Zarasai (Novo-Alexandrovsk), Kovno Raseiniai and Shavli.
Although the personal binding of the peasants to the land was abolished in 1861, the reform did not improve the economic straits they were in. When a further revolt against Russian rule broke out simultaneously both in Poland and Lithuania in 1863, it included social motives, and for this reason it involved many Lithuanian peasants and intellectual members of the nobility. In a number of regions of northwest Lithuania rebel groups took control of community centers and the government. Because of the overwhelming superiority of the army over the rebels, who basically waged a partisan war, and because of the brutal means used by the Governor of Lithuania Muraviov, known as the Hangman, even against those who only assisted the rebels, the revolt was put down within a year.
After the revolt, the authorities persecuted the Catholic Church by administrative and other means while the believers of the Orthodox faith enjoyed benefits and encouragement. Russification too was accelerated. Russian officers and members of the aristocracy inherited the estates of Lithuanians who participated in the revolt. Thousands of peasants were brought in from Russia and settled in Lithuanian villages. Russian was established as the only official language, and the use of Lithuanian and the Latin script was banned. The name Lithuania disappeared from official documents and it was referred to as the North Western district of Imperial Russia. In addition to the districts of Vilna, Kovno and Grodno, the district of Suvalkai was added in 1868, which was made up of the previous district of Augustova and included the regions of Augustova, Vilkaviskis, Marijampole, Novomiast (Vladisvalvov), and later, the community of Kudirkos Naumiestis-Sakiai, Suvalkai and Seiniai. According to the all-Russian census carried out in 1897, the population of this District counted 582,914. In the same year a government monopoly to distil and sell alcoholic beverages was established.
In addition to political and cultural oppression by the cruel regime, the population also suffered a large number of victims because of the war, the revolt and the plagues which followed them (cholera and others). From time to time Lithuania suffered famine, for instance during the years 1843-1845 and 1867-1868. In addition to these calamities, which brought yet greater misery to the lives of the inhabitants, , further oppressive steps taken by the Russian regime were added at the end of the reign of Czar Alexander First (1801-1855) and in the days of Czar Nikolai First. In the last four years of the reign of Nikolai First, 11,400 men were drafted into the Russian army from the Kovno district alone.
During the second half of the 19th century, contemporary with the economic prosperity, which swept throughout the neighboring countries, Lithuania also saw an impressive growth in its commerce, industry and building. The erection of military installations such as the series of forts erected around Kovno, the creation of ammunition dumps, the laying down of a railway line joining St Petersburg to Warsaw (completed in 1862), and between the port of Liepaja in Latvia and Romny in the Ukraine (in 1873), all contributed to the development. The railway and road networks, which passed through Lithuania (for instance from Riga in Latvia to Koenigsberg in Prussia) made for easy connections between more than one hundred cities and towns out of 290 then existing in Lithuania. As a consequence of the economic growth the number of large scale merchants increased (those belonging to the First Guild, according to the governmental rating) as well as the middle merchants (of the Second Guild). As a result of the above, the administration canceled the Third Guild - the lowest one.
Some of the peasants who, though freed from serfdom, ended up in dire poverty, moved to the urban areas and provided cheap labor for industry. In 1860-1890, the number of factories increased by a factor of nine and the output increased 35 times over. In 1900 the number of industrial workers was 17,600, as compared to 7,600 in 1890. The population of Lithuania too, grew considerably, particularly in the Kovno district. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, this district had 1,544,564 inhabitants, as against 969,369 in 1857. According to this census, the national makeup of the population was as follows: Lithuanians-66%, Jews-13.8%, Poles-9%, Russians-4.1%, Latvians-2.7%, Germans-1.4%. The population continued to increase also in the coming years. In 1909 it amounted to 1,614,768. This, in spite of the mass emigration to countries overseas. In 1869-1898 over fifty thousand emigrated to the United States, while in 1899-1914 well over a quarter million left. One hundred thousand emigrated to other lands. The number of emigrants from Lithuania was particularly high, probably because of its proximity to the German border; Lithuanian culture aficionados used this border to smuggle in newspapers and books in Lithuanian printed in Germany.
On the eve of the war against Japan, 1904-1905, the Russian government, bowing to the rising political activities and pressure, canceled the law forbidding the use of the Lithuanian language. As a result of the war, bloody incidents and anti-Czar demonstrations took place in Russia, and these spread also to Lithuania. Here too, strikes and demonstrations took place, under the leadership of the Social Democratic party, the Bund and other organizations. Amongst others, the demand was raised for cultural autonomy for Lithuania. Subsequent to the Manifest published in the name of the Czar Nikolai the Second, in October 1905, a Duma (legislative chamber) was set up after general elections were held throughout the Russian empire. Within a short time, four Dumas were convened and dispersed in short order. Before the election, an agreement was reached between the Lithuanians and the Jews in the Kovno district.
The second Duma, which met in 1907, included 5 peasants representing the Social Democratic Party and one representing the town folk of Kovno district. The Suvalki district elected one representative of the Liberal Cadets and one from the radical laborers Trudoviki, and the Vilna district elected four delegates of the estate owners, one Catholic priest and one peasant.
C) The First World War
A few months after the outbreak of the war in summer of 1914, Lithuania became a scene of battles between the armies of Russia and Germany. By September of that year the Germans already penetrated the districts of Suvalki and in April 1916 entered the district of Samogitia. After bitter battles they conquered Shavli and Panevezys (in July 1915). Kovno was taken in August, and a month later Vilna and the rest of Lithuania. During this period well over two hundred citizens were either evacuated or left their homes for the Russian interior. In addition, many thousands of Lithuanian men drafted into the Russian army before or during the war were evacuated. Administratively, Lithuania was included in the framework of the Oberost, which the Germans created in the areas to the east and the south of the Baltic Sea. The German authorities imposed a strict discipline on all the citizens, without discriminating on account of religion or ethnicity. They imposed a tax of 7 marks on every man, between the ages of 15-60. Many were sent to work in Germany or were drafted into labor battalions to do forced labor. where they lived under military discipline.
Special taxes were imposed on the peasants and most of their animals and produce were confiscated. For the benefit of the Germans, this was declared to be the official and only language and was introduced into the schools.
D) Between the Two World Wars (period of Lithuanian independence)
In the midst of the war and in view of the Russian revolution and the impending defeat of Germany, the agitation for an independent Lithuania grew apace. With this background there arose in Vilna a national Lithuanian committee (Tariba) which declared Lithuania an independent state with Vilna as its capital on February 16th 1918. A few months later, the chairman of Taryba, Antanas Smetona was elected the first President of the country and at the end of 1918 an interim government was appointed headed by Augustinas Voldemaras, This government was supported by Germany.
Concurrently, the Lithuanian Communist Party began its activities. With the direct support of Soviet Russia, the Lithuanian communists (Bolsheviks), founded in December 1918 in Vilna, what was named the Revolutionary State of the Workers and Peasants. This State, headed by Kapsukas, ruled over a very large tract of northwest Lithuania (near the border of White Russia), and introduced a Bolshevik revolutionary regime. But in mid 1919, in spite of the handsome assistance given them by the Red Army, the Bolsheviks were expelled from the country by the national Lithuanian army, which received diplomatic and technical assistance from Germany, the U. S. A, and Great Britain.
In the peace agreement signed in July 1920 in Moscow, The Soviet Union undertook to assist in the return home of Lithuanian citizens, and recognized the borders of ethnic Lithuania including the regions of Vilna and Grodno. But three months later, the Polish general Lusian Zeligowski, occupied the capital Vilna and the neighboring towns (a total area of 32,250 sq. km), and these were annexed to Poland. This act resulted in a sharp conflict which subsequently brought about the closing of the borders between the two countries for the following 19 years.
The relations with independent Lithuania's other neighbor Germany were much better in spite of the fact that in 1923 Lithuania had annexed the port city of Memel (in Lithuanian Klaipeda) and its district, of which the majority population was German (141,000). The territory of independent Lithuania consisted of all the district of Kovno, 5 districts out of 7 of the province Suvalki, portions of three regions of the district of Vilna, all the Memel area and a small part of the district of Courland, in total an area of 55,670 sq. km.
A population census was held in Lithuania in 1923. It transpired that the population had shrunk since 1897 by 20% and now counted 2,028,971. 83.9% of these were Lithuanians (the majority being peasants and Catholics), 7.6% were Jews, 3.2% Poles, 2.7% Russians and White Russians, 1.4% Germans, 0.7% Latvians and 0.5% others. The main source of income of the population was from agriculture and the processing of agricultural produce and that was the basis of the country's exports. Many of the Lithuanians who had emigrated to the USA assisted the homeland with investments, donations and the sending of monitory help to their families. On the other hand, an almost complete severance took place between the Lithuanian populace and their brethren in Vilna under the Polish regime. Many families were thus cut off from each other. Over time, the connection with ethnic Lithuanians who had remained in Soviet Russia was weakened, even after the repatriation at the beginning of the 1920's.
Because of the damage caused to Lithuania by the army activities during the First World War and its aftermath, and because of the loss of economic connections with Russia and Latvia, the internal economy was in a bad state. The value of the German mark, which had continued to be legal tender, went down in value, In an attempt to counter this situation, a new currency was introduced in 1922, the Litas, with an exchange value of $0.10. The Lithuanian parliament passed a law for agricultural reform by which the large landed estates (the majority being Polish) were expropriated and divided amongst the peasants and those who had participated in the war for independence. The country was divided in 1919 into 20 provinces (Apskritis) and each one contained a number of counties (Valscius). Over time, the total number of districts grew to 249.8% of the towns contained more than 500 inhabitants.
In 1922 the rights of the national minorities were written into the national constitution and the League of Nations received a statement promising to observe these rights. But within a year a retreat from these rights began on the part of the Christian Democratic caucus in the Sejm in spite of the fact that the united caucus of the minorities in the Sejm was then at its greatest strength: 14 out of 78 delegates were members of this caucus, of these 7 were Jews, 4 Poles, 2 Germans and one Russian.
Because of the economic difficulties and the political instability, the democracy, which was instituted at independence with the participation of the minorities, did not last long. In the six years that passed from the inauguration of the constituent assembly (in the year 1920), three elections took place for the Sejm (in 1922, 1923 and 1926), and seven governments replaced each other. The right wing elements attacked the democratic establishment, who in their opinion showed overt sympathy for the subversive elements (communists) and in December 1926 a military coup took place which brought the Nationalist party (Tautininkai) to power, headed by Smetona, who returned to the presidency. The democratic system was abolished, the Sejm was dissolved, and the Communist Party and other left wing bodies were banned. Three years later, Smetona, with the assistance of the ultra fascist organization (Gelezinis Vilkas), fired the head of government, Voldemaras, on charges of subversive activity. This brought democracy to an end.
With the rise of Nazism in neighboring Germany the national consciousness of the Germans in Lithuania strengthened too, particularly in the Memel district. Many of them joined in the activities of the Nazi organizations, which demanded a tightening of the political relations with Germany and even went as far as demanding the annexation of Lithuania to Germany. Influenced by the Nazis, nationalist and racist sentiments grew amongst the Lithuanians. Against this background, a group of officers in the Lithuanian army under the leadership of the commander in chief of the army, general Kubiliunas, attempted in 1934 to bring back Voldemaras to head the government but failed in the attempt.
Under pressure from political and economic circles, for instance the organization of merchants, Verslas, the government began to persecute the national minorities. By use of administrative trickery, no representatives of the opposition or of the national minorities were elected to the Sejm in 1936. Educational institutions, which taught in the minority languages, were obliged to reduce, year by year, the use of the students mother tongue. The use of foreign languages was attacked in the establishment's press and in the streets (at times violently).
The government's participation in the economic life
A growing number of light mercantile and industrial enterprises were concentrated through village and town co-operatives into governmental companies having a monopoly over production and sales. The largest of them all was the meat produce combine, Maistas, which exported during 1939 55 million Litas worth of pork. The milk combine Pienocentras, exported during 1939 one hundred million eggs and other products valued at 60 million Litas. The Lietukis company, which, in the beginning supplied agricultural equipment, extended its activities to selling and exporting grains, flax and fowls. In 1939 its turnover reached 114 million Litas. In that year, the three companies accounted for over 50% of all the Lithuanian exports, as against 5% just ten years earlier. The number of private enterprises diminished in the same period and they were classified according to five classes: 1, 2- wholesale trade with high turnover, 3- trade not on a large scale with medium turnover, 4-5 retail trade with small turnover.
A significant growth took place also in private industry, half of which was in food production and the rest in the wood industry, hides and building materials. The number of industrial workers rose from 18,830 in 1928 to 38,227 in 1939.
In spite of the above, many Lithuanians were stricken by the continuing economic crises and social ferment which developed in the country. Strikes and even an uprising of peasants and workers, which was bloodily suppressed, evidenced this. Prisons and special concentration camps filled with political prisoners, mainly members of the Communist Party who worked underground. Many of the lower and the middle classes decided to try their luck in the neighboring countries and even in countries overseas. In spite of the difficulty in getting an entrance visa for a foreign country some 80,000 people emigrated from independent Lithuania.
From the war of independence (1918-1920) Lithuania kept and strengthened an army that counted some 50,000 men. Young conscripts (aged 20-22) and soldiers in the regular army, mostly officers, including many who had served in the Russian army, adopted a nationalist outlook, enthusiastically supporting the authoritarian regime which ruled Lithuania after 1926. Yet in spite of this, the army was not activated in 1938 against the Polish forces concentrated on the Lithuanian border after Poland had issued an ultimatum demanding that Lithuania withdraw its claims to Vilna and open diplomatic relations. Lithuania gave in to these demands and fulfilled them while gnashing its teeth. The Lithuanians also showed restraint in March 1939, when Nazi Germany demanded that it forgo the port of Klaipeda and the surrounding area, and withdraw within 48 hours. In the distressing atmosphere, which was then prevailing in Lithuania, the supporters of Voldemaras reorganized, and now called activists, established secret contacts with the German secret service and attempted to build a National Socialist organization, which would strive to impose on Lithuania the German orientation.
E) The Second World War
Before the outbreak of the war Lithuania declared its absolute neutrality. Nevertheless, because of the secret agreement reached between Germany and the Soviet Union (based on the Ribbentrop-Molotov protocol) Lithuania was included in the Soviet sphere of influence. After eastern Poland was taken over by the Soviets, including the Vilna region, Lithuania was forced to agree to the building of Red Army bases on its territory. On the other hand, Vilna with the immediate surrounding areas was returned to Lithuania, in all 6,880 sq. km. The area contained 685,000 inhabitants, the majority Poles, Jews and a minority of Lithuanians. This area and others received some 25,000 Polish war refugees, Jews and Poles. The Lithuanian government took measures to absorb them and at the same time began to transfer official and academic bodies to Vilna.
In view of the serious situation that developed, a government of national unity was set up, but without the participation of obvious Left bodies. The Communist Party, the Komsomol (the Communist youth movement) and the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, continued to function underground.
The 1941 Soviet Regime, June 1940 until June 1941
On June 15th 1940, Red Army columns entered the Lithuanian cities, after an ultimatum given to the Lithuanian government a day earlier. Two days later, a Peoples Government was appointed under the leadership of a Left Wing journalist Justas Paleckis, which immediately announced the freeing of 400 political prisoners and the legalization of the Communist Party and its affiliates. Inspired by the Communist Party, elections were held for the Peoples' Sejm that declared, at its very first sitting, the creation of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.
On August 3rd the Supreme Soviet in Moscow acceded to the request of the Peoples Sejm to include Lithuania in the framework of the Soviet Union. At the same time, a number of districts were joined with eastern Lithuania in the Swienciany area, which previously were within the borders of White Russia. The Lithuanian army was absorbed into the Red Army under the title the 29th Territorial Corpus. Simultaneously, and in the same manner, Latvia and Estonia were annexed to the Soviet Union. The western powers, headed by the USA never recognized the annexation of these states.
In the course of accelerated Sovietization forced upon the Lithuanians newspapers and educational institutes which did not meet the criteria of the Soviet regime were closed down. The activities of political organizations of religious and nationalist bodies were forbidden, and their property confiscated. Considerable numbers of persons associated with the previous administration and activists of bourgeois and anti -Soviet parties were thrown into prison and some were exiled to Siberia. Simultaneously, a systematic nationalization took place in the private economy. Firstly, all banks were nationalized, followed by close to a thousand industrial enterprises and one thousand five hundred businesses and shops, which had a turnover of 150,000 Litas, and 14,000 houses were also confiscated. On the other hand, the regime did its best to improve the situation of the lower classes and youths desiring an education, They were encouraged to study and many of them were integrated into the ruling governmental and public administration. Preference was given to members of the Communist Party and its affiliates. In January 1941 the Party numbered 3,130 members whereas a bare six months earlier, when it came out of the underground it had only 1,000 members.
Outrage at the new regime including steps towards Sovietization, offending the nationalist and religious feelings of part the population, resulted in the emergence of underground groups in Lithuania. Some of them were extreme nationalists, such as the Lithuanian Activist Front (Lietuviu Aktyvistu Frontas), and these established secret connections with Germany. On June 14th 1941, over 30,000 Lithuanian citizens were declared enemy of the people, i.e. politically and socially unreliable and were exiled to Siberia and other remote places.
Under Nazi German domination
A week later, on 22nd June 1941, the German armies suddenly attacked the Soviet Union in an offensive called Barbarossa and on the same day the Germans bombed Lithuania and penetrated the territory in a number of places near the border. As a result of the military superiority and also because of the weak opposition by the surprised Soviet forces, all of Lithuania was conquered within three to four days, apart from some pockets in the north eastern area. The Lithuanian underground that followed the Red Army soldiers as they retreated eastwards, gave them indirect assistance. With them many of the leaders and activists of the Soviet regime (2,553, 55%) as well as members of the Communist party (2,200, 15%) members of the Komsomol (3,000, 25%,) the 29th Corps soldiers and over ten thousand civilians managed to flee to the interior of the Soviet Union, mostly youths who did not want to remain under German occupation. Over time, they formed the 16th Lithuanian Infantry division as part of the Red army, and special units were formed of the Lithuanian partisan movement.
In contrast to the Communists and their sympathizers, the Lithuanian masses received the Germans with enthusiasm and joy. A great many of them, first and foremost, the Lithuanian activists of the L.A.F, collaborated with the Germans both in the political administrative sphere and in the military and police activity, including the murder of Jews, communists and Soviet prisoners of war. But their hopes for regaining Lithuanian political independence and the attempt to set up a temporary government failed from the very beginning. In practice, Lithuania became part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland, the eastern territory of the Reich, and was called by the Germans the Lithuanian Administrative District (Generalbezirk Litauen). Headed by a German Generalkomisar, assisted by a sort of ministerial committee, consisting of Lithuanians with General Kubiliunas at its head. He was an adherent of the fascist politician Voldemaras. The Lithuanian national army was not reconstituted and about twenty thousand of its previous soldiers and officers were absorbed in the framework of police regiments whose task in Lithuania, White Russia and Poland was to murder civilians (especially Jews). Some participated in the war against the Lithuanian-Soviet anti-Nazi partisan movement which arose at the end of 1942. The partisans were active mainly in the eastern Lithuanian forests and numbered over 10,000 fighters, both men and women. In 1942, a few regions, which were previously in Poland were added to the Lithuanian Generalbezirk (Smorgon, Svir, Oshmiany).
After the German defeat on the Stalingrad front (1943), the Lithuanians turned against the German authorities, but when the Red Army returned to Lithuania, in the summer and autumn of 1944, many Lithuanians fled to Germany for refuge. A combined brigade of the Red Army (which included the Lithuanian division) forced the German garrison out of Memel (Klaipeda) and thereby ended the Nazi conquest of Lithuania.
F) After the War
Within a few years, some 120,000 previous Polish citizens returned to Poland. Until 1952, anti-Soviet gangs were still active in the Lithuanian forests. But the Soviet regime ruled without any turbulence until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. That year, Lithuania declared independence and was recognized as such by dozens of states including Russia and the Western powers.
Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 16 Apr 2012 by LA