“Anyksciai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Anykščiai, Lithuania)

55° 32' / 25° 06'

Translation of the “Anyksciai” 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 151-155)

Anyksciai

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Aniksht; in Russian, Onikshty

A county town in the Utena district.

YearGeneral
Population
JewsPercentage
1765 390* 
1847 1,556 
18973,9472,75470
19045,148  
19233,5101,748**50
19343,846  
1940 About 2000 
19595,44290.16

* Head-tax payers.
** 752 of them over 20 years old.

Anyksciai is located in the northeast of Lithuania, about 30 km west of Utena, the district's city. The town lies on the banks of the Sventoji River and is surrounded by hills and forests with coniferous trees. It's beautiful scenery and excellent air attracted many vacationers during the summers. The railway line between Panevezys and Svencionys passed through Anyksciai, thereby connecting it with Utena, and the Ukmerge – Rokiskis road.

Historical documents from the 15th century mention not only a town by the name of Anyksciai, but also a subdistrict and an estate with the same name. In the beginning of the 16th century the town was granted Magdeburgian Rights. In 1566 the town burned down completely. In the following years its economic situation deteriorated and it lost the Rights it was granted. In 1792 the town regained those Rights. During the Russian rule (1795 – 1915), Anyksciai was included in the Gubernia (region) of Vilnius and from 1843 in the Gubernia of Kaunas. The town suffered from many fires during the 19th century. It revived after the railway line between Panevezys and Svencioneliai was constructed in 1898. Artisans settled in the town and there were market days and fairs. During WWI (1915 – 1918), Anyksciai was under German rule. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918 – 1940), the town was the center of a subdistrict.

The Jewish Settlements Till After World War I

Apparently Jews began to settle in Anyksciai in the beginning of the 17th century. During the period of the “The Lithuania State Council” (1623-1764) the Anyksciai community was part of the “Vyzuonos Galil (district)”, one of three districts in Zemaitija. In 1704, an envoy from Hevron affiliated with the Shabtai Zvi circle, visited the town. The Jewish settlement in the town expanded greatly in the second half of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century. The Jews dealt in flax, in processing pig bristles, and in the production of felt boots. The town suffered much from fires: from the great fire of 1869 there was heavy damage. A large donation from the philanthropist Z.K. Wisotzky enabled the town to be quickly reconstructed, yet another fire struck the town in 1873, this time destroying 400 homes. Only 20 Jewish homes remained intact. In June of 1891 there was another fire: this time Anyksciai almost completely burned down, including the 418 Jewish homes and the 2 synagogues. 3,000 people remained homeless. In 1893 there was another fire which burned the center of the town and its homes, shops, and all of the Batei Midrash and Prayer Houses in the town. The community's entire property and the Talmud Torah also burned down. An emotional appeal for help was advertised in the “Hamelitz” [The Advocate], asking to send donations addressed to the town's Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe-Yoel Gurion. A fire department was formed in the town as a result of this fire. In May of 1901, 40 Jewish homes burned down and more than 100 families lost their entire property. Less than a year later, on April 19, 1902, another fire broke out, this time destroying 200 homes, 50 shops and their contents, four Prayer Houses, and the Talmud Torah with its many valuable books.

The fires severely aggravated the economic situation of the Jews in the town and many of them emigrated to the United States and South Africa. Almost each family had many relatives in those countries. People emigrated also because of political reasons; many members of the local “Bond”, which was one of the strongholds in Lithuania, were forced to flee before they fell into the hands of the Czarist police.

Among the rabbis who served in Anyksciai were: Rabbi Gershon Isralis from Lublin (in the 18th century); Rabbi Avraham-Aharon Burstein (until 1899); Rabbi Shemuel Avigdor Feibelsohn (served in the years1899 - 1905).

The lists of donators from the years of 1871 and 1874 for the hunger stricken in Lithuania mention many Jewish names from Anyksciai. The collectors of the donations were: Rabbi Moshe Gurion, Sender Troib, and Israel Sheinsohn. Jews from Anyksciai, mostly adults, emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael in the second half of the 19th century. In the old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem there are at least 4 headstones of Jews from Anyksciai. The list of donators for Eretz-Yisrael from the year 1900 mentions a few names of Jews from Anyksciai.

During WWI, on July 14, 1915, a regiment from the retreating Russian infantry carried out a pogrom against the Jews of Anyksciai; Jews were beaten and tortured, and women were raped. A Jewish miller who lived close to the town and who tried to defend the dignity of his wife and young daughter, was murdered by the soldiers. The town was almost completely destroyed during the war and its Jewish inhabitants dispersed in all directions.

During the period of Independent Lithuania

Jews started returning to Anyksciai when the State of Independent Lithuania was established. They settled in the ruined homes and rebuilt them with help from their relatives in the United States and South Africa and with aid from “The Joint”.

In accordance with the declaration of autonomy for the Jews, a ruling committee with 11 members was voted in Anyksciai: 5 from the “Achdut” (Agudat Yisrael) party, 4 from the Labor Party, and 2 from Tzeirei-Zion. 534 (80%) of the 667 eligible voters cast their votes. The committee was active in most areas of Jewish life in the town from 1919 until the end of 1925.

During this period the Jews of Anyksciai made their living through commerce, crafts and light industry. Half of the providers dealt in commerce, and the other half were artisans and laborers. The felt boot industry employed about 100 workers, the mechanized shoe factory employed 150 workers, the socks industry employed 40 women, and 20 people worked in the workshop for agricultural machines. A cooperative for the production of felt boots was organized by “Ort” during the 20's and it had 8 members.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census there were 57 shops and businesses in Anyksciai, 50 of them (88%) owned by Jews. The division into branches was as shown in the table below:

Branch or Type of BusinessTotalOwned
by Jews
Groceries22
Flax and Crops1414
Butcher shops and cattle trade88
Restaurants and taverns75
Clothing, furs and textiles54
Footwear and leather33
Haberdashery and house utensils44
Medicine and cosmetics20
Radios, bicycles and sewing machines11
Tools and iron products66
Lumber and heating materials33
Paper, books and stationary10
Miscellaneous10

According to the same census, there were 30 factories in Anyksciai that dealt in light industry, 24 of them (80%) owned by Jews. The division into business branches is shown in the table below:

Branch or Type of BusinessTotalOwned
by Jews
Metal, machines20
Headstones, glass, bricks11
Wood industry: saw-mills, furniture, tar10
Food industry: mills, bakeries96
Clothing, footwear and hats1111
Leather industry: production, cobbling11
Barber shops, hog bristles processing55

In 1937 there were 164 Jewish artisans in Anyksciai: 34 shoemakers, 21 felt boot producers, 18 knitters, 15 needle workers, 11 bakers, 9 butchers, 8 stitchers, 6 blacksmiths, 4 potters, 4 barbers, 3 oven builders, 3 hat makers, 3 tinsmiths, 3 leather workers, 3 watchmakers, a glazier, an electrician, a wood engraver, a girdle maker, a goldsmith, and 14 others. 50 Jews worked in rafting on the Sventoji and Nieman Rivers during the summers, and in the winter they worked in the felt boot industry. A Jewish doctor and a Jewish dentist are mentioned in 1925.

The “Folksbank” played an important role in the war for survival of the Jews of Anyksciai. It was established in 1920 and in that year it listed 33 members. In 1927 the membership grew to 396, and in1932 it had only 275 members. In 1939 there were in town 55 telephones, 16 of them belonged to Jews.

The economic crisis that beset Lithuania in the 1930's and the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Union of Merchants (Verslas) against buying from Jews, a policy backed up by the government, forced the Jews to abandon their trade and work. Many of the town's Jews who could not foresee their future in the town left and emigrated to the United States and South Africa. The South African association of Anyksciai Jews was active for many years and it assisted in absorbing the new immigrants.

Anyksciai had 4 institutions for elementary education which belonged to 4 different organizations: the Hebrew Elementary School, established in the 20's, was part of the “Tarbut” network and had, on average, 60 pupils; the school of the “Yavne” network had an average of 50 pupils; a Yiddisher school that was part of the “Kultur League” had 120 pupils and next to it was a kindergarten with 30 children; and a “Small Yeshiva” and a few “Hadarim”. Some of the graduates from these schools continued their education in the “Or” Hebrew Gimnasia in Ukmerge.

The town had two large libraries; one belonged to the General Zionists and the other to the Yiddishers.

Many of the town's Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. All the Zionist parties had adherents in Anyksciai. A “Wizo” branch was also active in the town. The division of the votes to the Zionist Congresses in Anyksciai during the 20's and 30's was as shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
YearTotal
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
RevisionistsGeneral
Zionists
GrosmanistsMizrachi
Z”SZ”ZAB
14192540        
1519271815 416   4
161929148632413117   8
17193111295514923   8
181933 353216434 6633
191935 444269 298372

Among the Zionist Youth Organizations that were active in Anyksciai were: “Hashomer Hazair”, “Betar”, “Hekhalutz-Hazair” and “Bnei Akiva”. In 1934, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the “Hekhalutz-Hazair” branch, a public aid committee was formed for its support. In the same year there was in town an urban Kibbutz that was part of the “Hekhalutz” movement. There were also Jews who were members of the Yiddisher “Folkspartei”, and also a Jewish Communist Underground, which distributed a newspaper stenciled on a hectograph entitled “Kampes Phan” (The Flag of the Struggle). Sport activities were held by the “Maccabi” branch, which had about 25 members.

The town's volunteers in the fire fighters' regiment were mostly Jews.

Religious life concentrated around “The Shulhoif”, which had 2 large Batei Midrash, the old and the new, a synagogue for the Hasidim, and two “Kloiz” (a small synagogue). The Hasidic synagogue was rehabilitated in 1938 when Z.S. Yosepovitz, a former inhabitant of the town, provided a large donation.

The Rabbis who served in Anyksciai during this period were: Rabbi Eliyahu-Yakov-Dov Shur, author of the book “Nitey Haim” (Vilnius, 1891). Rabbi Shur served in the town for 30 years and was one of the first members of “Hovevei-Zion” (Lovers of Zion) in Lithuania; he emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael in his old age (passed away in Jerusalem in 1938); Rabbi Avraham-Mordechai Vesler, the spiritual principal of the Teachers' Seminar in Telsiai, was active in “Agudat-Yisrael”, and perished in the Holocaust together with his community in Plunge; Rabbi Kalman-Yitzhak Kadishevitz, Anyksciai's last Rabbi, author of the book “Toldot Yitzhak” (Keidan, 1936), one of the great scholars and teachers of Judaism in Lithuania from the last generation. He too was murdered in the Holocaust.

The traditional welfare institutions in Lithuania were also active in Anyksciai. Former Anyksciai inhabitants from Chicago donated money in 1933 and founded the “Kupat Gemilut Hasadim”.

Among those who were born in Anyksciai were: Rabbi Meir, the son of Rabbi Asher Kamaika from Anyksciai (passed away in 1885); he was the principal of the Vilnius and Zemaitija Kolel and in 1857 emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael; Rabbi Louis Epstein (1887 – 1949), who was the president of the Rabbinical Assembly in the United States between 1918 – 1922; Ben-Zion Weiner, Chairman of the Jewish Education Committee in Montreal, Canada; Zeev-Wolfe Shur (1839 – 1910), traveler and writer who wrote books about his travels in Egypt, India, China, and the Philippines. He immigrated to the United States in 1888, was a Zionist entrepreneur and a delegate to the 5th Congress; Moshe Yavnnai, one of the first settlers in Magdiel.

During World War II and Afterwards

In 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. Many of the factories and shops in Anyksciai that belonged to Jews were nationalized. The supply of goods decreased and prices rose sharply as a result. The middle class, composed mostly of Jews, suffered a severe setback and its standard of living dropped gradually. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded. The Hebrew educational institutions were closed. Ten Jewish families, including the heads of families who volunteered in the Lithuanian War of Independence, were expelled to Siberia.

On the very first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, Lithuanian peasants raped and murdered a young Jewish woman who rode her bicycle on her way home to Anyksciai and threw her corpse into the river. A few days later, the German soldiers entered Anyksciai. But the Germans did not stay and the Lithuanian Nationalists seized immediate control of the town. Hundreds of Jewish refugees got stranded in Anyksciai, most of them were from Kaunas who failed in their attempt to flee to the Soviet Union. They were assembled in the Batei Midrashim and after two weeks of harsh humiliation and torture, they were allowed to return to their places. Only a few of the town's Jews succeeded to escape to the Soviet Union.

Four days later, on June 26, all of the town's Jews were expelled from their homes. They were not allowed to take anything with them, but were ordered to lock up their houses and give the keys to the Lithuanian auxiliary police. All of them were squeezed into the Prayer Houses and were brutally tortured there. Towards evening the elderly women, women with babies, and children under 10 years old, were sent back to their homes.

The leader of the pack of murderers was a local German who returned to the town dressed in S.S. uniform when the war started. This man, who was actively assisted by the Lithuanians, cracked heads with a military shovel and used sticks and iron rods to break the hands and the legs of the victims. The murdered were buried in the Prayer House yard. 36 young Jews were shot in the same place after they were forced to dig their own grave. The Lithuanians stormed into the Beit Midrash, picked young women, brought them out into the yard and tortured and raped them there. The torturing and the murdering continued for about two weeks. The “Shulhoif” became a cemetery for dozens of murdered Jews.

Then the Jews were taken out of town and were transferred to the forest that had recreation homes. Prior to that, the Jews from Kaunas and other places were allowed to return to their places. In the coming weeks, although it rained and the nights were cold, the Jews of Anyksciai were kept in the open air. As a result, many of them got sick and died. Each day, young men and women were taken from the forest as forced laborers and they also had to work on the farms of the local peasants. Several Jews used this opportunity to hide in the peasants' farms, but only a very few succeeded in making it through the war.

On July 28, 1941 (4 Av, 5701), the Lithuanians, supervised by the Germans, took the men from the forest and led them, group by group, to the nearby hilly sands, a place called “Hazenberg” (Liudiskiai in Lithuanian), one km from Anyksciai, 300 meters to the right of the road from Anyksciai to Skiemonys, and murdered them after forcing the stronger men to dig the pits. The others were kept busy by performing unusual “sport exercises”, which were intended to exhaust and humiliate the people. Among them was also Rabbi Kalman Kadishevitz, the Rabbi of Anyksciai.

On August 29, 1941, (6 Elul, 5701), the women and children were also brought there and were murdered in the same place. According to Soviet sources, 1,500 men, women and children were murdered there.

The names of the Lithuanian murderers who participated in the extermination of the Jews of Anyksciai are kept in the Yad Vashem archives.

After the war, a memorial was erected on the mass grave. In 1969, through the initiative of Anyksciai survivors, the bones of the murdered were transferred to the new Jewish cemetery in Vilnius and where a memorial was erected, engraved in Hebrew letters.

According to the 1990 cartographic survey of Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania, there is a Jewish cemetery in the village Surdegis, near Anyksciai.

Several Jews returned to live in Anyksciai after the war, but their number decreased with the years. In 1959 there were 9 Jews, and in 1989 only 2.

In the beginning of the 1990's a stylized metal fence with concrete posts was built around the mass grave and a memorial with an inscription in Yiddish. A monument made of wood was built on the way to the graves and on it a Magen David and a signpost in Lithuanian: “Jewish Graves, Victims of Genocide (The Holocaust).

Bibliography:

Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 5342, 0-3/3258; M-9/15(6); Konyochovsky Collection 0-71, files 75, 76, 116.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: files 1555, 81-104, pages 4641-6452.
Liefman, D.M., History of the Jews in Kaunas and Slobotke, Keidan, 1930, pp. 70-71.
Dos Wort (Kovno), 26.12.1934.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kovno), 29.9.1919, 13.6.1938.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 1.1.1879, 21.1.1879, 26.7.1882, 22.8.1882, 16.11.1883, 20.6.1893, 9.5.1901, 8.5.1902.
Folksblatt [The People's Newspaper] – (Kovno), 30.10.1930, 12.1.1933, 10.4.1933, 18.6.1935, 27.10.1936, 6.4.1939.
Punkan [Sparks] (Kovno), 5.6.1931.
Nemunas (Kovno), October 1991.


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