“Veivirzenai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Veivirženai, Lithuania)

55° 36' / 21° 36'

Translation of the “Veivirzenai” 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 274-275)

Veivirzenai

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Verzhan

A county town in the Kretinga district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1833 582 .. ..
1847 .. 281 ..
1923 934 259 28
1940 1,050 .. ..

Veivirzenai is located in the Samogitia region in northwestern Lithuania, on the banks of the Veivirzas River, 38 km southeast of the port city of Klaipeda and 8 km from the town of Sveksna. The settlement is mentioned in historical sources from the 13th century and onwards. In 1792, the town was granted the Magdeburg rights and was permitted to use the town's symbol (an armed horseman), to hold weekly market days and 3 annual fairs. In the 19th century, the town's lands were bought by the Oginski aristocratic family. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915), Veivirzenai was from 1843 administratively part of the district of Raseiniai within the Kaunas region. From the middle of the 19th century, up to and including during the period of Independent Lithuania, the town was the center of a county. A big fire broke out in Veivirzenai during the summer of 1937, which burned down 32 houses. In 1939, when Klaipeda was annexed to Germany, the German border passed close to the town.

The Jewish Settlement till World War II

A list from 1662 mentions 4 Jewish men and 5 Jewish women (not including children and elderly) who lived in Veivirzenai. Jewish artisans and merchants already lived in the town in the 18th century. Subsequently, they built a synagogue, a Beth Midrash and other communal institutions. The cholera epidemic which broke out in the Samogitia region in 1848 caused much suffering to the town's Jewish community. According to a Lithuanian source, 17 Jews were among the 24 victims who died in the epidemic.

The 1914 list of donors for settling Eretz-Yisrael note the names of 20 Jews from Veivirzenai.

The Rabbis who served in Veivirzenai rabbinate until WWI were: Rabbi Avraham Aba; Rabbi Avraham Shnitzer, who served in the town for 24 years and passed away in 1911; Rabbi Josef-Avigdor Kesler; Rabbi Shemuel Ponidler.

When Independent Lithuania was established, a community council functioned in Veivirzenai. The council established a Hebrew school and a library. A small number of the town's Jews made their living from crafts and agriculture, and the majority from storekeeping and commerce. Most of the commerce was buying agricultural products (mainly flax) from farmers in the surrounding areas and marketing them to Klaipeda.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Jews owned 12 stores in Veivirzenai (almost 100% of all the stores in the town): iron products and a tools store, 2 grocery stores, 3 fabric stores, a store for heating materials, 2 butcheries and 3 grain stores.

In 1937, the town had 6 Jewish artisans: a tailor, a hat maker, a butcher, a glazier, a watchmaker, and a carpenter. During the second half of the 1930's, organized Lithuanian competition against Jewish merchants increased and there was also a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, for example, attempts to burn down Jewish homes or break windows in their homes. As noted above, Jewish homes were severely harmed in 1937, when there was a fire in the town. The conditions of the Jews deteriorated even further after the Klaipeda region was annexed to Germany. On the one hand, commerce became very limited, and on the other hand, it became necessary for the Jews of Veivirzenai to absorb Jews who fled from Klaipeda. And still, of the 16 telephones that were in Veivirzenai in 1939, 11 of them were in Jewish homes, including the doctor and the female pharmacist.

Some of the Jewish youth who graduated from the local Hebrew school continued their education in the Lithuanian gymnasia in the nearby town of Sveksna. A few continued their education in Yeshivas in the Samogitia region. About 50 youth were members of the local branch of “Maccabi”. The town also had a branch of “HaShomer Hatzair”. Most of the town's Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. The results of their votes to the Zionist Congresses 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
14 1925 - - - - - - - - -
15 1927 32 26 1 1 - 18 - - 6
16 1929 53 22 8 - 1 12 - - 1
17 1931 29 22 11 - 2 8 - - 1
18 1933 .. 32 25 2 2 - 2 1
19 1935 .. 97 54 - 2 3 3 35

The town's Rabbi from 1922 until he was murdered in 1941 was Rabbi Netanel-Josef Graz.

Among the town's natives were Rabbi Benyamim Aronovitz (born in 1865), who served as the head of a Yeshiva at the Yeshiva University in New York; and Rakhel Luria (1886-1929), an author in Yiddish in the United States.

During WWII and Afterwards

In 1940, when Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union, all Zionist activities were disbanded and the Hebrew school was shut down. Some of the stores were nationalized, yet quite a few Jews were employed in fortifications that the Red Army built on the border with Germany. The youth were integrated into economic and other institutions of the Soviet Rule. One of the leading personalities on behalf of the Soviet Rule in Veivirzenai was Yisrael Gesel from the town of Sveksna.

Veivirzenai was conquered by Germany on June 22, 1941, the day of the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. The frightened Jews who found temporary shelter among the villages in the surrounding areas returned to their homes on the following day. A number of local Lithuanians who were integrated within the framework of the police and also other Lithuanians tortured the Jews and robbed their homes. On June 27, Lithuanians destroyed the synagogue and its Torah scrolls were thrown to the street. The following day (3 Tamuz, 5701), SS men rioted Veivirzenai, arrested about 150 Jewish men, including Rabbi Graz, and took them to the synagogue in Sveksna, where they were terribly tortured, especially the Rabbi. The tortures continued also after the Jews were taken to the labor camp in Silute in the Klaipeda region.

On July 16 (21 Tamuz), German and Lithuanian police arrested the remaining 50 Jewish men and murdered them. The Jewish women and children were assembled by armed Lithuanians at the estate of Yisrael Belgorsky in the village of Trepkalnis, 2 km from Veivirzenai. The women worked in agriculture among the farmers in the surrounding areas, who gave food to them and their children. On September 21, 1941 (the eve of Yom Kippur, 5702), all of the women and children were murdered in a grove near the estate and were buried in a mass grave. At the last moment, before being murdered, the local priest tried to convert the victims to Christianity. The murders were done by armed Lithuanians as ordered by the Germans. A testimony, which can be found in the Yad Vashem archives, notes the names of some of the murderers. One woman, Fruma Popes, managed to escape from the murder site and she saw the day of liberation.

At the beginning of the 1990's, a stone monument was erected on the mass grave and on it an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “In this place, in 1941, Hitlerite murderers and their local collaborators murdered 76 Jews”. At the same time, a monument was erected in the place that was the old Jewish cemetery of the Jewish community of Veivirzenai and on it an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. Holy is the memory of the deceased”.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-9/15(6); Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 4, 19; 0-3/3217, 3939.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 369.
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] - (Kaunas), 3.6.1937.

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