“Upyna” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Lithuania)

55° 27' / 22° 27'

Translation of the “Upyna” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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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.


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(Pages 126-128)

Upyna

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Upyne

A small town in the Taurage district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1847 300 185 62
1885 469 .. ..
1923 284 A few dozen families ..

Upyna is situated in the Samogitia region in western Lithuania, about 30 km northeast of the district city of Taurage. Upyna is first mentioned in historical documents in the 17th century. In 1633, the town was granted the right to hold market days and fairs. In 1706, a church was built in Upyna. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915) the town administratively belonged to the Vilnius region and later to the Kaunas region.

Before WWI, 30-40 Jewish families, who earned their living from petty trade and agriculture, lived in Upyna. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940), the number of Jews in the town decreased. Prior to WWII, only 20-30 Jewish families remained in the town. Some of the Jews owned small stores, and some engaged in agriculture. Almost every house had an auxiliary farm, which in addition to a vegetable garden and orchard, also included a cow that provided milk. The flourmill and sawmill belonged to the Rozenfeld family. In 1937, the town had 4 butchers, a tailor, and a shoemaker who were Jews. Not a single Jew owned any of the 4 telephones that were in the town in 1939.

There were many Zionists among the town's Jews. The results to the 18th and 21st elections to the Zionist Congresses in Upyna, which were held in the home of the local Rabbi, are shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
18 1933 - 22 11 - - 3 - 8
21 1939 11 11 7 - - - 4 -

Upyna had a Beth Midrash. Among the Rabbis who served in Upyna were: Rabbi Shalom-Elkhanan Joffe, author of the book “Peri Eshel” (Vilnius, 1876) and “Tefilat Shelomo” (Vilnius, 1887) and other books (he served in Upyna during 1879-1886), and subsequently was a Rabbi in St. Louis and Brooklyn, USA, and Rabbi and president of the Rabbinical court in the great Rabbinical court of New York; Rabbi Nakhum-Barukh Ginsburg (from 1903), who was also a Rabbi in Kybartai and Jonava and the last president of the Union of Rabbis in Lithuania and author of the books “Noar Mitzvot” and “Makor Barukh”. Rabbi Ginsburg was murdered in Jonava by the Nazis; Upyna's last Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzkhak Joffe, was also murdered by the Nazis (see below).

Among the natives of Upyna were: Rabbi Eliezer-Reuven Mushkin (1888-1950), a Rabbi in Chicago; Rabbi Tzvi-Yehuda Gitkin; Rabbi Avraham-Aba and his son Dov Heller, who were known as communal activists in the surrounding areas; Nekhemia son of Gershon Sachs (1838-1903), a publisher and author, who published, among others, “The History of the Jews” in Yiddish by Graetz.

The German army entered Upyna on June 23, 1941, on the second day of the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Jews who fled to the villages in the surrounding areas immediately returned to their homes because orders were given on the Lithuanian radio not to hide Jews. Lithuanian nationalists took control of the town and immediately started harassing Jews. A German, escorted by a Lithuanian young woman, broke into the Rabbi's house, Rabbi Yitzkhak Joffe, and took him out of the house. The young woman cut off the Rabbi's beard and the German fired with his pistol and injured the Rabbi in his leg. The Lithuanian paramedic, a neighbor of the Rabbi, refused to help him. Later, the injured Rabbi was taken to a doctor in Skaudvile and was murdered there with the local Jews.

During the first week after Germany invaded Lithuania, Lithuanian nationalists already burned down the Beth Midrash, with its Torah scrolls and other books. Lithuanian policemen used to break into Jewish homes and steal whatever they desired. They also emptied all the stores that were owned by Jews. At nights, they used to shoot behind the windows of Jewish homes in order to frighten them. Every day, Lithuanians would take out Jewish men to do various types of work in the town in order to torture them. During the second week after the invasion, an SS man appeared in the town and ordered all Jewish men 13 years and older to concentrate in the local Lithuanian school. Refugees from Taurage and other towns in the surrounding areas were also squeezed into that building, in total about 70 people. From there they were taken to work and were returned there to sleep. The women of the imprisoned men, who still lived in their homes, used to bring them food. The Germans circulated rumors that the men would soon be transferred to a different location. On July 22, 1941, SS men, aided by Lithuanian auxiliary police, took all of the men out of the school and made them walk through the town in the direction of Skaudvile. A few hours later, local Lithuanians came to Upyna, holding in their hands shovels and the clothes of the Jews. Witnesses said that those Jews were murdered and that before they were murdered they were forced to undress and do “physical exercises”.

On that same evening, the town's mayor notified the Jewish women that they must prepare to leave the following morning in order to join their husbands. On that evening, the women baked bread and packed their belongings. This was all done in darkness because it was forbidden for Jews to light their houses. Lithuanian farmers from the surrounding area visited the Jewish homes and offered to safeguard their belongings “until the war is over”. Before the women were loaded onto wagons, which were supposed, as it were, to take them to a camp near Batakiai, Lithuanian policemen went through their homes and took from the women the money and other valuables which they had. On the way to the camp, the policemen stopped the wagons, searched their bags, and took whatever they wished. After being moved from place to place and enduring other hardships, the women were taken to two unfinished shacks next to the train station near Batakiai. Women and children from Skaudvile and Batakiai, and refugees from other towns, were also squeezed into those shacks; a total of several hundred people. All of them were murdered in August and were buried in a mass grave in the Batakiai Forest, about 18 km from Taurage and 5 km from Batakiai, on the bank of the Ancia River. According to Soviet sources, 300 corpses of women were found in that mass grave. In a trial that took place after the war in Ulm, Germany, against the Tilsit unit that committed those acts, it was told that the murders were committed by Gestapo officials and Lithuanian auxiliary police. The women were forced to dig their own grave, which was 100 meters long. They were brought to the pit one group after another while hungry, thirsty and terrified, and were shot there. They were forced to undress completely before they were shot. At the trial, a photo taken by a German was displayed, showing a Lithuanian policeman dragging with one hand a naked woman by her hair and with the other hand pointing a gun to her nape.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, file 11.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 1506.
Gotlieb, Ohalei Shem, p. 329.

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