“Debeikai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

55° 35' / 25° 19'

Translation of the “Debeikai” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin

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 199- 200)

Debeikai

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

(Yiddish, Dabeik; Russian, Dobeiki)

A county town in the Utena district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1881 275 .. ..
1921 .. 120
families
..
1923 317 175
families
55
1936 294 .. ..
1941 .. 10
families
..

Debeikai is located in the northeast of Lithuania, on the banks of the Aknysta River, about 20 km from Utena, the district's city, and near the towns of Vyzuonos and Anyksciai.

Debeikai is mentioned in historical sources dating back from the 17th century. During the period of Russian rule (1795 – 1915), it was administratively included in the Vilkomir district within the Vilnius Gubernia (region) and from 1843 within the Kaunas Gubernia. From the middle of the 19th century and onwards, Debeikai was the center of a subdistrict and maintained that status also during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918 – 1940). Throughout that time, its number of inhabitants did not exceed 300 and it was therefore considered a small town. The Komar aristocratic family, the owners of the land around the town, had a great influence in Debeikai.

According to headstone inscriptions in the nearby town of Anyksciai, Jews already lived in Debeikai in the 17th century and were highly instrumental in developing the settlement on its way to becoming a town. The elders of the community even attempted to interpret the verse “our hearts shall not stray from Thy commandments”. In 1881, the master of the town, Anton Komar, donated 50 rubles for completing one of the roofs of the prayer houses.

The Jews made their living from storekeeping, labor and agriculture, and among them were also merchants who traded in flax, hog bristles and eggs. Many of them earned their living by working in the estates in the surrounding area; they bought the crops and provided their masters with foodstuffs and other products.

Their social and cultural life mostly concentrated around the two prayer houses: the Bet Midrash of the “Mitnagdim” and the “Shtibel” of the Chabad Hasidim. The “Mitnagdim” were the majority in the community, yet their relations with the Hasidim were good. The "Mishna" and “Ein-Ya'akov”, the traditional Jewish associations for studying the Mishna, were shared by the “Mitnagdim” and the Hasidim. The Rabbi of the community used to pray two weeks in the Bet Midrash of the “Mitnagdim” and one week in the “Shtibel” of the Hasidim. One of the renowned leaders of the congregation was Rabbi Eliezer Naftali Hertz, the son of Joseph Soloveitshik. He became the head of the Debeikai Rabbinate in 1871 and was its leader for 50 years. His son-in-law served in the Rabbinate after him. Debeikai was also famous for its cantors and musicians, for example, Tzvi Resnikovitz, Isaac Rabinovitz, and Yehuda Kalevzon. A few of them served as temporary or permanent cantors in other communities.

During WWI, the Russian regime ordered the Jews to move into the interior regions of Russia. As a result, the Jewish community of the town experienced hardships and its life was impaired. On July 14, 1915, Russian soldiers stormed into the Bet Midrash, smashed the bimah (platform for reading the Torah), blew up the Holy Ark, cut up the Holy Scriptures with their swords and scattered the pieces on the floor.

During the period of Independent Lithuania, Debeikai was disconnected from the cities of Vilnius and Dvinsk which served as important markets for the town. As a result, trade decreased and the means of earning a living were impaired. The Jews suffered especially from organized competition on the part of Lithuanians. In spite of the activities of the popular Jewish bank in the town, the economic situation of many families was critical and some families uprooted to other towns or emigrated abroad, to England, United States, South Africa and Eretz-Yisrael. In 1937, the bank no longer functioned in Debeikai. At that time, there were 7 Jewish artisans in the town: 3 butchers, 2 shoemakers, a tailor, and a barber.

At the beginning of the 1920's, Debeikai had an active community council and a Hebrew school that was part of the “Tarbut” network. The town also had a “Heder” whose graduates continued their education in the Yeshivas in the region.

Some of the youth in Debeikai received Hakhshara (training) in the “HeKhalutz” branch and emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael.

The “Tzeirei-Zion” branch, which had 30 members, was the largest of the Zionist parties that were active in Debeikai. Of the 14 people who participated in the town in the 1935 elections for the 19th Zionist Congress, 12 voted for the “Eretz-Yisrael HaOveded” party, and 2 for the “Mizrakhi” party. One of the people born in Debeikai was Yerakhmiel Frack who translated the 5 Scrolls and the Pirkei-Avot into Yiddish (Vilnius, 1915). Debeikai last Rabbi was Rabbi Tzvi Hirschovitz.

In the autumn of 1940, when Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union, all Zionist activities came to a halt and the economic activities of the Jews changed radically. Some of the Jews were integrated into national economic institutions. Quite a few of them moved to larger cities.

On June 22, 1941, when the German army invaded the Soviet Union, local Lithuanians took control of the town and arrested some of their Jewish neighbors. A young Jewish woman summoned Red Army soldiers who were stationed in the region. When they arrived, they opened fire and freed the Jews. Three of the ten Jewish families that lived at that time in Debeikai managed to escape to the interior of the Soviet Union. The rest were forced to return to the town because units from the German military blocked their way. When they returned, local Lithuanians imprisoned them in the public bathhouse and kept them in extremely harsh conditions. The Lithuanians also tried to kill them, but did not have time to do that because the local German commander interfered in the matter on time. A while later, an order arrived to transfer the Jews to Utena, and there, on August 29, 1941 (6 Elul, 5702), they were murdered together with many other Jews.

Bibliography

Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: page 31150.
Gotlieb, Sefer Ohalei Hashem, p. 35.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 29.3.1881, # 125 1893, 27.10.1902.

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