“Kurkliai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Lithuania)

55° 25 / 25° 03'

Translation of the “Kurkliai” 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 568-569)

Kurkliai

In Yiddish, Kurkle

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

A county town in the Ukmerge district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1865 338 --- ---
1897 789 257 32
1923 755 181 24
1940 ---   ~50
families

Kurkliai lies in eastern Lithuania, approximately 27 km. north east of the district capital Ukmerge (Vilkomir). Kurkliai and the vicinity belonged to the Grand Duke of Lithuania in the 15th.and 16th.centuries. In 1564 it was granted the rights of a town. During the period of Russian rule (1795-1915), the town belonged to the Vilna province and in the middle of the 19thcentury it was included in the Kaunas province. The paving of the Kaunas –St. Petersburg highway in the middle of the 19thcentury, brought about the town's expansion. By the end of the 19thcentury the town had a number of shops as well as markets and fairs. During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) it served as a county town.

Jews settled in Kurkliai at the end of the 18thcentury. They lived off petty trade, craftwork and peddling. The weekly market day on Sundays was the great day of 'turnover' in the Jewish shops. In the other days of the week, the Jews tended to visit the nearby villages to peddle their goods. According to the survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931 the Jews owned one textile shop in Kurkliai, one butcher, one pharmacy. According to the above survey of small manufacturing the town had two Jewish owned flour mills. In 1937 there were 6 Jewish artisans in town; one baker, an oven builder, a tailor, a cobbler, a metal worker and a butcher.

The Jewish Peoples Bank (Folksbank) played an important role in the economic life of the town. In 1927 it had 70 members and functioned until 1940.In 1939 the town had 20 telephones, three being with Jews.

Due to the difficult economic situation, most of the Jews emigrated to South Africa, Brazil, Cuba and the USA.

The Jewish children studied in the local Heder and in the town Lithuanian school. There was a small library with Yiddish books in the apartment of the baker Yisrael Yoffe.

The town had two prayer houses; the old Bet Midrash (study house) and the New Shul (the New Synagogue). The study house was used in the winter as it had a stove for heating. The Shul was used in summer. In 1885, when the old study house was in danger of collapse, the Shul too received a stove. A building plan was then prepared for a new study house. Among the rabbis in Kurkliai were Rabbi Yitskhak –Moshe Braver (from 1894) and the Rabbi Yakov-Yosef Dimant.

The charitable institutions in town Hakhnasat Orchim ( a hostel), Gmilut Hesed (benevolent loan society), were in the house of the Shokhet (ritual slaughterer), Neta-Betzalel Davidovitz, who also served as the beadle and the treasurer of the synagogue.The monies were collected from ex townsfolk abroad and from Christian estate owners who had business dealings with Jews.

Many of the town Jews belonged to the Zionist camp and most of the Zionist parties were represented in it. The following are the results in Kurkliai of the elections to Zionist congresses:

Congress
No
Year No. of
Shekels
Total
Votes
Labor
No
Revis-
ionist
General
Zionists
State
Party
Mizrachi
Z S Zts. A B
16 1929 .. 5 2 1 1 1 - - -
18 1933 .. 17 15 - 1 - 1 -
19 1935 .. 86 53 - - 1 32 -

For some time, a preparatory kibbutz was active in Kurkliai, and the halutzim worked in logging and painting.

Kurkliai is the birthplace of Burton Montague (1885-1957, Motl Rubinstein), a philanthropist who established the Chair of Universal Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He died in Leeds, England.

With the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union and its conversion to a Soviet Republic in 1940, flour mills and shops belonging to Jews, were nationalized. All the Zionist parties and youth movements were dispersed.

Nothing is known what happened to the Jews in the first days of the German invasion, it is only known that they shared the fate of the Jews of Ukmerge and of the surroundings, who were murdered in the Pivonija forest on September 5, 1941 (13 Elul, 5701, see the article on Ukmerge).

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 115 0-(12); 0-3/6091.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Gotlieb, Ohalei Shem, p. 177.
Naujenos (Chicago), 19.8.1949.

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