“Joniskis” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Joniškis, Lithuania)

54° 04' / 25° 39'

Translation of the “Joniskis” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996




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Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
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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 338 - 339)

Joniskis

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

(Yiddish, Yanishok; Russian, Yanishki)

A county town in the Utena district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1866 239 135 56
1923 233 159 68
1940 .. 90 ..

Joniskis is located in eastern Lithuania, on the shores of Lake Arina, 24 km southeast of Moletai. Up until 1939, the town was in the Utena district and about 2 km from the border with Poland. In 1939, when the Vilnius region was returned to Lithuania, Joniskis was annexed to the Svencionys district.

At the beginning of the 18th century, Joniskis belonged to the Jesuit Order which the Church established in the town. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915) and also during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940), the town was the center of a county.

Apparently, Jews settled in Joniskis at the end of the 18th century. They engaged in petty trade and agriculture. Next to the lake there was a tavern that was owned by a Jew and around it were 14 Jewish homes.

During the period of Independent Lithuania, the Jews of Joniskis made their livelihood from commerce, labor and agriculture. There were Jews who cultivated large pieces of land and raised cattle. In 1937, there were 9 Jewish artisans in the town: 4 butchers, 2 shoemakers, 2 blacksmiths and a glazier. Many families were supported by their families who lived abroad. Generally speaking, the conditions of the town's Jews were fair. Their relations with their Lithuanian neighbors were also reasonable.

The number of Jews in the town decreased over the years. Some emigrated abroad and others moved to other cities in Lithuania.

The Jewish children studied in a Jewish school and in a “Heder” that were in the town. Some of the youth studied at the Gymnasias in Utena and Ukmerge. The town also had a small library with books in Hebrew and Yiddish. The older generation, which was very orthodox, used the Bet Midrash in the town for praying and for Torah studies. Most of the youth were Zionists. The town also had a branch of “Benei Akiva”.

In 1940, when the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania and it became a Soviet republic, a few of the shops and farms that were in Jewish hands were nationalized. The Zionist parties were disbanded and the Hebrew school was shut down.

On June 22, 1941, when the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, the Jews of Joniskis remained in their town. On June 25, one could already see armed Lithuanians who were at the heels of the retreating Red Army. On June 27, units of the German army appeared in the town. However, they did not stay but moved to the surrounding forests in order to “cleanse” them of any remaining Red Army soldiers. The local regime that got organized in the town included people who came from out of the town. The town's local Lithuanian residents behaved as bystanders do. The activists who harmed the Jews of Joniskis were led by the local priest.

On June 28, a young Jewish man who was the secretary of the “Komsomol” (the communist union of youth) in the town was shot to death in the street. On June 30, the Lithuanians removed 7 Jewish men from their homes on the pretext that they must do some kind of labor. Two days later, they were murdered in a forest about 6 km in the direction of Pabrade. Subsequently, orders were published that Jews must hand over their radios, gold, silver, cloth and other valuables in their possession. The Jews were also ordered to wear on their chests a yellow patch in the form of a Magen David and were forbidden to leave the town.

On July 8, all the Jewish men were taken out of their homes. While they were being tortured, they were forced to dig two big pits at the edge of the town, about 250 meters from the local church. The entire Jewish population of Joniskis was murdered in those pits. Only one man (Efraim Peinperes) managed to disappear while the pits were being dug and after many hazards, survived to see the day of liberation. According to Soviet sources, two mass graves were discovered in Joniskis: one at the edge of the town, near the cemetery, where about 60 men are buried; and the other about 250 meters from the church, on the Arina shore, with the corpses of 85 women and children.

According to the 1990 cartographic survey of Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania, 3 cemeteries were found around Joniskis: one at the village of Kazylai, another at the village of Bariunai, and the third at the village of Zuriai.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, file 71.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murders in Lithuania), Vol. 2, p. 406.

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