“Aukstadvaris” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Aukštadvaris, Lithuania)

54° 35' / 24° 32'

Translation of the “Aukstadvaris” 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 251-254)

Aukstadvaris

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Visoki-Dvar; in Russian, Visoki Dvor

A county town in the Trakai district.

YearGeneral
Population
JewsPercentage
188869419428
1897711  
192381527233
1941 230 

Aukstadvaris is located on an elevated hill in southeast Lithuania, about 25 km west of Trakai, the district's city. Below the town, on the left bank of the Verkne River, there are two lakes: Pilaite and Nava. The meaning of Aukstadvaris is “The Elevated Estate”. For many years Aukstadvaris was famous for being an estate of Lithuania's great princes. The town had, among other things, a brewery and a flourmill powered by water. In 1595 Aukstadvaris was granted the status and the rights of a town. Eventually the town became the center of a district. During the Russian rule (1795 – 1915) the town and the villages in the area belonged to the Malevski (the nobleman) estate and his family, and administratively it was within the Gubernia (region) of Vilnius. The German army conquered the town during WWI. At the end of the war the town was passed back and forth between the Polish and Lithuanian armies, until things settled down and the town was included within the borders of Independent Lithuania (1918 – 1940).

In 1905 and 1935 big fires broke out in the town. The municipality was rebuilt after the last fire and was one of the most beautiful in the entire region.

The Jewish Settlements Till After World War I

According to the elders of the community, the first Jews settled in Aukstadvaris in the 17th century and possibly even earlier. In the old cemetery in the town, which also served many others in the area, a headstone was found dating from 1760. In the years before WWI there were about 70 Jewish families in Aukstadavaris. About half of them made their living from storekeeping; some earned their living from labor and by working on auxiliary farms. There were also families that leased the inn and the tavern from the nobleman and the rights to produce and sell liquor. The garrison that was stationed nearby was also a source of income. The Jews of the town used to invite the Jewish soldiers who served in the garrison, to their homes during the Jewish holidays.

In the villages next to Aukstadvaris lived 37 Jewish families, 6 of them in Pasasva, 5 families in Olshishok, 3 families in Tomasheve, and 2 in Hute. Most of these Jews made their living from handcrafting (tailoring, shoemaking, metalworking and more), and the rest from maintaining inns, leasing land and liquor. These Jews used to celebrate the Holy Days and the other Jewish holidays with their brothers in Aukstadavaris, who welcomed them cordially. Due to the persecutions by the Russian authorities and the limitations they imposed, many members of those families that lived in the villages moved to Aukstadvaris or immigrated to America.

The cultural life in the town was very much influenced by the Vilnius community which was 60 km away and with which it also kept close economic ties. Some of those who were born in the town studied in Vilnius. The town's richer Jews used to bring “Melamdim” (tutors) and secular teachers from Vilnius. Aukstadavaris received its newspapers from Vilnius. This is how the spirit of the Enlightenment reached the town and the Zionist ideology during the 90's of the 19th century. The Zionist association in the town was founded at the end of the 19th century. It the town it distributed 40 shares of “Otzar Haityashvut Hayehudim” (the “Colonial Bank”). In 1912, 26 “Shekalim” were sold in the town.

The list of donators for Eretz-Yisrael for the years 1899, 1903, and 1914 mention many Jewish names from Aukstadavaris. The delegates were Ariye-Leib Abramovitz, B.Z. Kazenelson, Dan-Yeshia Cohen (1899), P. Epstein (1914). One delegate from Aukstadvaris participated in the 1899 regional council of the Zionist Associations that met in Vilnius.

When WWI broke out, the Jews of Aukstadvaris sent a declaration of loyalty to the Russian Czar. The local Rabbi received a formal “Thank You” document. The document was framed and placed on the wall in the Rabbi's house. Later, when officers from the Russian army raided the town's homes in order to expropriate them to provide housing for the soldiers, the Rabbi asked them not to deprive him of the room where the letter from the Czar was hanging. The officers got ready to punish him for his insolence. When they saw the letter in the room, they relinquished their intentions. The Russian authorities, contrary to what occurred in other places in Lithuania, did not expel the Jews of Aukstadvaris into the interior of Russia but let them be.

However, due to the harsh atmosphere that prevailed in the town many of the Jews of Aukstadvaris nevertheless chose to flee to Vilnius. Only 4 families stayed behind. When the German army arrived, the Jews returned to the town. Due to the conditions that prevailed in the town during the German occupation, many died of hunger and diseases. Rabbi R. Reuven Baraz (who served in the Aukstadvaris Rabbinate 1900 – 1932) initiated an aid council which was very active in saving Jews from hunger.

During the period of Independent Lithuania

The inhabitants of Aukstadvaris were beset by gangs of robbers after the Germans withdrew from the town. The Jewish youth organized a “self-defense” unit, which also incorporated young Lithuanians and Poles. The Jewish population suffered very much from the numerous Lithuanian and Polish military activities that took place in the town and in the region. The social and cultural situation of the Jews of Aukstadvaris was also poor. An elementary school, whose language of instruction was Yiddish, was built in town through aid from “The Joint”, but the institution was shut down after a short while. Substantial aid was received from the Jewish organization of “Yakapa”. In the last quarter of 1919 the monetary aid that Aukstadvaris received amounted to 11,534 marks; half of the sum was intended for purchasing food, and the rest for heating materials, medicine and cultural activities. In 1920 the sum of money reached 50,000 marks.

During the first 5 years of Independent Lithuania (1920 – 1925) 31 Jews emigrated from the town: 13 went to Eretz-Yisrael, 8 to the United States, 7 to Mexico, 2 to Argentina, and 1 to Canada. 65 Jewish families that totaled 272 people lived in Aukstadvaris at that time. The heads of the families made their living in the following occupations: storekeeping – 17, labor – 17, sawing and knitting – 7, butchery – 4, “Religious Services” – 3, peddling – 2, gardening – 2, teaching (“Melamdim”) – 2, odd jobs – 4. Seven families subsisted by relying solely on the support of families from abroad. Overall, for quite some time, 55 out of the 65 Jewish families in the town needed one form of support or another. The range of support fluctuated between 5 to 25 dollars per family per month.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Jews owned the following businesses in Aukstadavaris: 3 grocery stores, 3 cloth stores, 2 stores for heating materials, a store with miscellaneous goods, a store for iron and work tools, a wool carder, and a flourmill.

In 1937 there were 16 Jewish artisans in the town: 4 shoemakers, 3 tailors, 2 blacksmiths, a baker, a hat maker, a barber, a painter, a photographer, a butcher and a watchmaker.

73 (37%) of the Jews lived in their own houses (most of which were on lots that belonged to non-Jews), 23 (36%) lived in rented homes, and 5 (7%) in rented rooms. Most of the homes were made of wood, 4 were Khoma houses. Most of the apartments had 2 rooms. Only 10 families had more spacious apartments. The town had a Beit Midrash, a house for guests, a Mikve (ritual bath) and a public bath that was heated once every 3 to 4 weeks. The town had a Lithuanian doctor and a Jewish paramedic. The Jews preferred to be treated by the paramedic.

Two Jews were members of the local council; the secretary of the council was also Jewish. In 1930, through the initiative of Rabbi Reuven Baraz, an elementary school that belonged to the “Yavne” network was founded in the town. 30 pupils studied there. Also, in 1930, 7 Jewish girls studied in the Lithuanian pre-gymnasia (middle school). 14 of the local Jews studied in other places: 9 in the university, 2 in the gymnasia (high school), and 2 in a Yeshiva. Aukstadvaris had a library with a reading room, a drama club, and a small string orchestra. The “Maccabi” branch had 30 members. The branches of “Gordonia”, “Hechalutz” and other Zionist associations were homes to zealous activities for the national funds.

The division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in Aukstadvaris was as shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
YearTotal
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
RevisionistsGeneral
Zionists
GrosmanistsMizrachi
Z”SZ”ZAB
1519272020   12  8
16192942        
171931*2020 527  6
181933*..534364   
191935..9369  1926
       Nationalists
191939352613  13

* The town's Rabbi, Rabbi Baraz signature is on the summary of the election's protocols of that year.

After serving the Aukstadvaris community for 31 years, in 1932 Rabbi Baraz moved to Eretz-Yisrael. His place was filled for 3 years by Rabbi Mordechai Rabinovitz. Aukstadavaris's last Rabbi was Rabbi Aharon Elinovitz who perished in the Holocaust.

Among those who were born in Aukstadvaris was Hirsch Abramovitz, a journalist and a historian, who for many years headed the “Hilf Durch Arbeit” (Help through Work) organization in Vilnius. His daughter, Dina, who was in Vilnius ghetto during the Holocaust and who later joined the partisans in the Rodniki forests, is currently a senior worker in the YIVO institute in New York.

During World War II and Afterwards

During the Soviet rule in Lithuania (1940 – 1941), many of the Jews of Aukstadvaris experienced far-reaching economic and social changes. Zionist activities were prohibited and Zionist organizations were disbanded.

On June 23, 1941, one day after the German army invaded the Soviet Union, the local Lithuanians immediately organized a conference, delivered speeches of incitement against the Jews, and accused them of spreading communism. As a result, many Jews fled from the town, but the peasants in the region refused to shelter them in their homes. Because of the war, many of their homes burned down including the Beit Midrash and the Holy Scriptures in it. The frightened Jews who returned to the town crowded together in those homes that remained standing. On July 4, 1941, 5 Jews were arrested and were accused of belonging to the communist party. These Jews were executed together with others who were similarly accused. On July 8 notices were advertised in the town ordering all Jews over six years old to wear on their breast and upper backs a white patch made of cloth, 10 cm long and 10 cm wide, and in the middle of them a yellow circle and on it the letter “J”. Jews were forbidden to leave town or go out of their houses in the evening. On July 17 a German unit showed up in Aukstadavaris, headed by an officer who immediately became the military commander of the town. He ordered the town's Rabbi, Rabbi Aharon Elinovitz, to recruit a number of Jews to wash the floors of the house where his soldiers stayed. Following the local police commander's orders, Aba Abramovitz was chosen as “the Elder of the Jews” in the town. The Jews were ordered to do forced labor: the men – in building roads and clearing rubble, and the women – in clearing weeds from the streets.

On July 24, the Jews were abruptly ordered to evacuate their homes and to crowd together in 7 huts on the other side of the Verkne River. A young Jewish woman by the name of Ida, the sister of Rabbi Aharon Broide from Kaunas, had the courage to challenge the decree. The Lithuanians demanded that she be tried in a military court (which included the German commander, the commander of the Lithuanian police, and the head of the Lithuanian nationalists in the town) and she was immediately sentenced to death. But the plan for a ghetto was cancelled.

After the Germans left, the Lithuanian nationalists resumed control of the town and continued to torture the Jews. On August 16 the Jews were ordered to change the older yellow patch with a new patch, this time in the shape of a Magen David. The Lithuanian police spread contradictory rumors about the fate awaiting the Jews and at the same time extorted money and clothes from them. On September 21 all the Jews were locked up in the Lithuanian school. Some of the Jews tried to escape, but most of them were caught. One of them, Zelda Miller, shouted at the Lithuanians: “No! You will not destroy us! There will be Jews in Eretz-Yisrael and in America. They will avenge our revenge!”.

Trimonis, the local priest, together with a few Lithuanian elderly women, sent food to the prisoners. On the first day of Rosh Hashana, 1941, all the Jews were transferred on wagons to the old barracks in Trakai, the district's city. They were kept there for 10 days in starving conditions. On the eve of Yom Kippur, 5702 (September 30, 1941) armed Lithuanians murdered about 200 Jews from Aukstadavaris together with more than 12 Jews from Trakai and nearby areas. One of the Jews, Asher Miller, still managed to voice an outcry before he died for the avenging of the spilling of this blood.

After they finished killing the Jewish inhabitants, the dignitaries of the town and the municipality's clerks looted the property they found in the victims' homes. What was left was sold in a public auction.

Some of the Jews of Aukstadavaris managed to escape to the forest. 14 of them were caught because they were hunted down and because Lithuanians from the area reported on them. They were shot in the old Jewish cemetery on December 14, 1941 and on February 4, 1942. From the entire Jewish population of Aukstadavaris that was under German occupation, 8 survived. These people wandered for three years in the forests, fields and nearby swamps in the area.

In the early 90's a monument was erected in the old cemetery of Aukstadavaris's community with an inscription in Yiddish and in Lithuanian: “The old cemetery, holy is the memory of the deceased”.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-2017/1839; Koniuchowsky Collection 0-71, files 88-91.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 1568.
Abramowicz, Hirsz, “A litvish shtetl”, in M. Shalit, (editor), Oyf di hurves fun milhomes un mehumes, pinkes fun Gegnt-komitet (On the Ruins of Wars and Turmoil) "YeKoPo", 1919-1931, pp. 361-384.
Abramowicz, Hirsz, Farshvundene geshtaltn: zikhroynes un siluetn, Buenos Aires, 1958, pp. 365-397.
Gotlieb, Sefer Oheli Hashem, pp. 63, 204.
Gar, J, "To the History of the Destruction of the Lithuanian Jewry" Universal History of Judaism, Volume 6, p. 368.
Sapirstein, Jacob, “Annihilation of the Jews of Aukshtadvaris”, Lite, Volume 1, pp. 1870-1882.
The First Conference of the Jewish Regional Committee "YeKoPo" for helping the Victims of the War, Vilna, September 8-9, 1919, Vilna 1920.

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