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

55° 31' / 24° 18'

Translation of the “Ramygala” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

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 640-641)

Ramygala

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Ramygole; in Russian, Remigolo.

county town in the Panevezys district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1833 454    
1847   190  
1859 1,116    
1897 1,329 650 49
1923 1,246 480 38
1940 1,300 About 350 27

Ramygala is located on the Panevezys - Kedainiai road, 25 kilometers south of the district city of Panevezys. Ramygala is noted in historical documents as early as the 13th century and is first mentioned as the capital of the district in 1525. In 1580, the town was granted rights to hold 3 fairs a year. It held many markets. Between 1795-1915 the town was under Russian rule, first within the region of Vilnius and later within the region of Kaunas. During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940), Ramygala was the center of the district.

As the old headstones in the Jewish cemetery indicate, it appears that Jews began to settle in Ramygala as early as the end of the 16th century. In 1766 the town had 225 Jewish taxpayers. The number of Jews in Ramygala increased during the middle of the 19th century. It is known that in 1859 there was already a synagogue in Ramygala. In 1833 a fire destroyed 35 Jewish homes. About 60 families escaped in complete poverty and turned for help to other Jewish communities in Lithuania.

Ramygala is the birthplace of Yitzhak Ben Yakov (1801-1863), a bibliographer whose main book was “The Treasure of Books”, a detailed bibliography of 17,000 books and Hebrew manuscripts that appeared until 1863.

During WWI, on May 15, the Russian military rule exiled the Jews of Ramygala from their town into the interior of Russia. After the war only two thirds of the exiled returned to the town.

When autonomy was granted to the Jews by the independent Lithuanian government, 7 members of the community were voted to a ruling committee. The committee was active in most areas of Jewish life in the town from 1920 until 1925.

The Jews of Ramygala made their living through small commerce, peddling, craft and agriculture. In 1929 there were among them about 30 small shop owners, 25 who leased gardens and fields, 20 artisans and 8 peddlers. According to the 1931 census conducted by the Lithuanian government, Ramygala had 4 linen stores owned by Jews. Jews also owned the 2 flourmills in the town and its surroundings. In 1937 there were in Ramygala 11 Jewish artisans: 3 shoemakers, 3 butchers, 2 bakers, 2 blacksmiths and a tailor.

In the fire that broke out in Ramygala in the summer of 1929, 62 Jewish buildings were burned, of which 27 were homes and the rest stables, barns, etc. The “Linat Zedek” (Hospice for the Poor) house, the library and its reading hall, the Beit Hamidrash and the Talmud Torah, were also burned. Only 11 houses had insurance. All who lived in other houses needed help. Money that was collected by the “Joint” and its sister organization, “The Foundation”, together with donations by locals and also by government support, which supplied wood at discount rates, enabled the uninsured house owners to rebuild their homes.

From the middle of the 1930's the number of Jews in the town decreased steadily. The economic crisis that beset Lithuania and the open propaganda that the Union of Lithuanian Merchants “Verslas” organized against buying from Jews motivated many Jews to seek their future elsewhere. In 1939 there were 10 telephone subscribers; only one of them was a Jew.

During the early 20's a school was built in Ramygala in which Yiddish was the language of instruction, but it was closed down after a short while. In the following years the Jewish children studied in the Hebrew school that was part of the “Tarbut” network. A new library was built in 1929, replacing the library with the 600 volumes that was destroyed by the fire. In 1931, after a prolonged dispute, the library was transferred into the hands of the “Folksparty”.

In January 1933 a new Beit Midrash was inaugurated on the ruins of the burned one. Now there were two Beit Midrashim in Ramygala. Daily lessons, day and night, were held in Mishna and Talmud. Ramygala had a fairly large number of scholars (Talmidei Khachamim), intellectuals and Hebrew speakers. The Rabbis who served in Ramygala were: Rabbi Shemuel-Moshe Shapira (from 1869); Rabbi Yoel Khitovsky (from 1892); Rabbi Zisel Schteinfeld, Ramygala's last rabbi, who together with the other Jews, perished in the Holocaust.

Many of the Ramygala Jews belonged to the Zionist camp, adhering to most Zionist parties. The youth belonged to “Tzeirei-Zion” (The Youth of Zion). Ramygala Zionists voted to the Zionist Congresses as indicated in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
18 1933   18 13   3     2
19 1935   68 46   1 2   19
              Nationalist  
21 1939 10 6 3   1   2  

In 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. As a result, the flourmills belonging to Jews, and some of the shops were nationalized. All the parties and the Zionist youth movements were disbanded. The Hebrew school was shut down.

The war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on June 22, 1941. Yet even before the German soldiers entered Ramygala the Lithuanian nationalists got together and began torturing the Jews. One Jew was immediately killed and another, who showed resistance, was buried alive with his feet sticking up in the open air. The Rabbi, Zisel Schteinfeld, was tied to a wagon harnessed to a horse and was dragged through the streets of the town until he breathed his last breath. When the Germans entered the town, they began abducting Jewish young women. The Germans and Lithuanians tortured the young women by cutting their bodies into pieces with knives and ordered the other Jews of the town to be present during these atrocities. After two months of torture, the Jews were ordered to assemble in the Beit Midrash in order to be transferred to Panevezys. They were told that this is where they will live and work. The elderly and sick were left in the Beit Midrash that was set on fire and they were burned alive. On August 24-25 1941, (1-2 Elul, 5701), the rest of the Jews were led by foot towards Panevezys and were murdered in the Pajuoste forest, about 8 kilometers east of Panevezys. The names of the Lithuanian murderers are kept in the Yad Vashem archives.

In 1992, a memorial was erected where once stood the cemetery of the Ramygala community and on it an inscription is written in Yiddish and Lithuanian.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, file 15(6) / M-9.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: files 1130-1148, 1349, 1546.
Gotlieb, Sefer Oheli Hashem, Pinsk, 1912, p. 378.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kovno), 19.4.1922, 23.7.1929, 29.7.1929, 31.7.1929, 14.1.1931, 8.5.1931, 1.7.1931, 9.1.1933.
Der Yiddisher Kooperator [Jewish Cooperation] - (Kovno), # 10, 12, 1929
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 9.11.1883, 25.4.1889.
Folksblatt [The People's Newspaper] – (Kovno), 2.10.1935.

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