“Viesintos” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Viešintos, Lithuania)

55° 42' / 24° 59'

Translation of the “Viesintos” 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 264-266)

Viesintos

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Vishinte

A county town in the district of Panevezys.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1886 598 .. ..
1897 741 400* 54
1914 .. 60
families
..
1921 .. 50
families
..
1923 318 188 59
1926 .. 25
families
..
1938 343 .. ..

* 80 families.

Viesintos is located on the shore of Lake Viesintas in northeastern Lithuania, 40 km east of the district city of Panevezys . The estate of Viesintos in mentioned in historical sources from the year 1600. The town of Viesintos, whose land belonged to the aristocratic family of Komar, was built next to the estate at the end of the 18th century. During the period of Russian rule, Viesintos was administratively part of the Vilnius Guberina (region), and from 1843 it was within the Ukmerge district as part of the Kaunas Gubernia. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940), Viesintos was the center of the county. In 1923, 175 people lived in the nearby village which was also called Viesintos, and 35 people lived on the Viesintos estate.

The Jewish Settlement Till After World War I

The Jewish settlement in Viesintos was established at beginning of the 19th century. The book “Ateret Yitzkhak” by Rabbi Yitzkhak Issac (head of the Siauliai rabbinate) mentions a rabbinical jurisdiction of 1830 between those who maintained the meat tax in Raguva and the community in the county of Viesintos. Most of the Jews made their living from storekeeping, petty trade and crafts. Almost every family had an auxiliary farm, which included a vegetable garden, orchards, a cow, poultry and other things.

On the eve of Passover, 1879, a rumor was spread among the Christian residents of the town that a farmer who lived in the region did not return home and was killed by Jews in order to prepare matzahs from his blood. This version of the story was supported, among others, by the priest of the Catholic Church and a local lawyer. As the incited crowd was getting ready to punish the Jews, the farmer returned to his home and the town's Jews were relieved of their agitation.

The relations between the Jews and the owners of the town's lands, the Komar family, were very good. In the summer of 1879, when the Jews of Viesintos began building the Beth Midrash, the head of the Komar family, General Constantin Komar, supported and encouraged them. He also gave them a lot for the cemetery. When the aristocrat passed away, many of the town's Jews attended his funeral. According to Dov Yehuda Parish, the local reporter for “HaMelitz”, before the General passed away he ordered “his sons to be peacemakers with the Jews and also ordered them to send a few hundred rubles to Jewish communities”. Apparently, his heirs fulfilled his will.

The building of the Beth Midrash was completed in 1882. In 1911, a Yeshiva was built in the town. The religious and social life of the Jewish population in Viesintos, as in other places, concentrated around the Beth Midrash and the Yeshiva. The Shas society was active there and it had dozens of members who studied Judaic studies. The Yeshiva and 3 educational institutions of the “Kheder” type subsisted for many years. The teachers (Melamdim) were: “Rabbi Kopel Itsikson, Rabbi Yekhiel-Mikhel, and Rabbi Leib. Some of the students continued their education in the Panevezys, Telsiai and other Yeshivas. The Jews of Viesintos, who were devoted to religion and tradition, were also active in the “Khibat Zion” movement. The names of some of the town's Jews are mentioned in the 1914 list of donors for settling Eretz-Yisrael.

In 1915, one year after the outbreak of WWI, Russian army soldiers set on fire all of the Jewish homes in the town. The Jews fled to nearby forests. Many of them walked to Anyksciai and to Vilnius and from there continued to the interior of Russia.

The Rabbis who served the Viesintos Rabbinate at that time were: Rabbi Yekhiel-Mikhel, son of Rabbi Hillel Joffe (from 1872); Rabbi Josef Reuven, son of Rabbi Khaim Katz; Rabbi Ben-Zion Feldman; Rabbi Efraim-Dov, son of Rabbi Shelomo-Zalman Berzinski; Rabbi Josef-Khaim, son of Rabbi Shelomo Trup.

Among the natives of Viesintos was the Jewish author, Yehoshua Levinson (1843-1911).

During the Period of Independent Lithuania

When Independent Lithuania was established, most of the Jews of Viesintos returned to their town and found their homes burglarized and burned down. Some of the houses were restored during the middle of the 1920's, but the economic conditions were difficult. The local Jewish bank provided some aid. Subsequently, Jews owned in the town 20 stores and 4 taverns. Most of their income was made from farmers from the surrounding areas during the weekly market day, which took place on Tuesdays. During the other days of the week, the storekeepers and their families engaged in crafts and petty trade in nearby towns. Among the 33 artisans in the town were: 10 seamstresses, 5 coachmen, 4 tinsmiths, 3 tailors, 3 carpenters, 3 butchers, 2 glaziers, 2 shoemakers and 1 chimney cleaner. In 1937, the number of artisans decreased to 14: 3 butchers, 2 tailors, 2 tinsmiths, 2 shoemakers, a baker, a carpenter, a leather worker, and 2 photographers.

Among the Jews of Viesintos were 4 big merchants, who traded in grain, flax and ducks. The town also had 3 flourmills, a brick factory and a pottery that were in Jewish hands. In 1939, there were 10 telephones in the town, 2 of which belonged to Jewish businesses (a tavern and a shop for metal products).

Jewish life in the town continued in its traditional flow, as it were, but in fact there was an increase in the number of youth who studied in Hebrew schools in Panevezys and other towns such as Anyksciai, and Kupiskis. Quite a few of them belonged to branches of the Socialist Zionists, Tzeirei Zion, “HaShomer HaTzair” or “Maccabi”, and other movements. Cultural and social activities also took place in the popular local library of the town. The Jews of Viesintos were involved in the Zionist movement and the results of their votes to the 18th (1933) and 19th (1935) Zionist Congresses are shown below:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
18 1933 20 15 6 - 2 - 5 2
19 1935 90 75 30 - - - 16 29

The Rabbis who served in the Jewish community of Viesintos between the two world wars were: Rabbi Avraham Epstein (passed away in 1939), and Rabbi Yerakhmiel Yishpa, who was murdered in the Holocaust.

During World War II

The social and economic life of the Jews of Viesintos changed in the summer of 1939, when Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union. All Hebrew and the Zionist institutions were shut down. Some of the younger generation went to work or study in Kaunas and other places. Only 2 dozen families remained in the town. On June 22, 1941, after Germany conquered Lithuania, the Jews suffered severely because Lithuanian nationalists took control of the town. At the end of September, 1941, the Jews of Viesintos were taken to Kupiskis, where they were murdered together with the Jews of Kupiskis and were buried in a common mass grave.

At the beginning of 1990, the Jewish cemetery of Viesintos, which still had many tombstones, was restored. A stone memorial was erected at the entrance and on it an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The Old Cemetery, eternal is the memory of the holy”.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-9/15(6); Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 65, 146.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Gotlieb, Ohalei Shem, p. 67.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 22.4.1879, 24.4.1879, 31.8.1880, 29.3.1881, 7.2.1882.
Di Zeit (Kaunas), 14.7.1926.

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