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

54° 46 / 24° 14'

Translation of the “Kruonis” 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 611-612)

Kruonis

In Yiddish, Kron; in Russian, Kroni

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

A county town in the Trakai district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1866 574 44 8
1923 .. 241 ..
1940 860 *120 14

* 25 families

Kruonis lies in eastern Lithuania about 30 km. south east of Kaunas and 60 km. west of Vilnius. The river Kruone flows through the town and joins the Neman River some 5 km. downstream. The market square lies in the center of town. The town land and the surrounding estates belonged, over a period of hundreds of years, to the aristocratic family Oginski and in the 19th century, passed into the possession of the state, which then sold them to the peasants. In 1866, Kruonis had 63 buildings housing 574 souls; 306 Catholics (Lithuanians and Poles), 203 of the Pravoslav faith (mostly Russian), 44 Jews, 16 Moslems (Tartars), and 3 Lutherans (Germans). During the period of Russian hegemony (1795-1915), Kruonis was included in the Vilnius province. During the above period, and also during Lithuanian independence it was defined a county center.

The Jewish Community until the Second World War

A Jewish community already existed in Kruonis in the second half of the 16th century, in the period of the union of Poland and Lithuania. Within the framework of the Jewish Council of Lithuania (1623-1764), Kruonis belonged to the Horodna (Grodno) Provincial Council, approximately at the same time, large community of Karaites lived in the town. Because of the intense competition on the part of the Rabbinic Jews, the Karaite community (one of the oldest in Lithuania) survived only until the middle of the 18th century. Among the leaders of the community, Yosef Ben Yitskhak stood out by his wealth and extent of his business activities, he also wrote liturgical hymns.

A few families lived on estates or in nearby villages, Vikenai, Kovli and others. Some used to come to Kruonis for the High Holidays. What were known as 'Temporary Regulations' were published in Russia in 1882, by which Jews were banished from rural communities, including Kruonis. Due to pressure exercised by liberal circles, some one hundred Jewish communities were excluded (Kruonis among them) from the list of those to be evacuated. Never the less, the community did not develop economically or in number. Most of the Jews made their living of petty trade, craftwork, vegetable and fruit farming and livestock smallholdings. Emigration to England and the USA of individuals and families began at the end of the 19th century.

Religious and public life centered around the Beth Midrash (The Shul), where a study framework existed for boys, of tender age and older. There, they had a sort of heder, in which in addition to the study of holy texts, Hebrew, Russian and arithmetic was also taught. The teachers were brought in from Vilna. As there was no Rabbi in Kruonis, the inhabitants had to use the services of the Rabbi in the neighboring village, Darsuniskis. The money to pay their part of his salary was raised by the sale of Sabbath candles on Fridays.

After the outbreak of the First World War, the local Jewish population was also obliged to participate in the guarding against spies and saboteurs. In May 1915, (during the feast of Pentecost), the Kovno Jews were exiled to Russia. Some of them spent a few days in Kruonis and received warm assistance and welcome from the local Jewry. The danger of exile hung over the Kruonis Jewry as well, but finally, they were allowed to remain on condition that some members of the community stand surety before the authorities; should it appear that the Jews caused damage to the Russian army, then the hostages would be executed. The three hostages, (the beadle Yitskhak Akhitowitz, Motel Strazh and David Tekatch), were held in the Trakai prison for a few weeks, and were finally released after the use of 'influence' in the high places. A short time before the entry of the German army into Kruonis, some Jewish families escaped the town. For about three years the Germans ruled with a hard hand in the town. All the inhabitants between the age of 17 and 40 were conscripted for forced labor. After the declaration of Lithuanian independence in 1918, some of the families which had escaped to Russia during the war returned to Kruonis. At the end of 1918, the independent Lithuanian republic was established.

With the declaration of autonomy for the Jewish population, a community board was elected consisting of 5 members, and it was active in all aspects of Jewish life in the town.

During the period of Lithuanian independence, the economic situation of the Jews did not improve. Some continued to make a living out of petty trade, of craftwork and of auxiliary farm holdings. According to a Lithuanian government survey in 1931, Kruonis Jews owned 2 restaurants, a grocery store, a clothing store, a flour mill and a sewing workshop.

The last town rabbi was Rabbi Meir Levi.

A few dozen Jews emigrated abroad and to the Lithuanian capital, Kaunas, but the cultural and socials situation of the remaining Jews did not change much. The town had a public library and the youths were active in the Zionist movements. Following are the results of the election in Kruonis to the Zionist congresses:

Congress
No
Year No. of
Shekels
Total
Votes
Labor
No
Revis-
ionist
General
Zionists
State
Party
Mizrachi
Z S Zts. A B
19 1935 30 30 30 - - - - -
21 1939 20 19 19 - - - - -

One of the scions of the town, the teacher and writer, Josef Gar, published books on the tragic fate of the Lithuanian Jewry.

In the autumn of 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet republic. The Kruonis Jews suffered, together with others, from the Sovietization, particularly in the social and economic sphere. All Zionist activity was forbidden. Owners of large businesses which had been nationalized, were forced to go out to work on road work and other forms of hard labor, which they were not accustomed to.

When the war broke out between the Soviet Union and Germany, Lithuanian nationalists arrested all the Jews of Kruonis and imprisoned them in the silo. The Jews were allowed only water and bread .After a short time the women and children were released, and later the men also. On a certain night, the Lipa Perlstein and the Mikhal Feinberg families were murdered. They had had disputes over land with their Lithuanian neighbors. The frightened Kruonis Jews who had begun to hide among the peasants of the vicinity, were ordered back to their dwellings by the police. They were promised their safety, but when they returned, the Lithuanians forced them to go to nearby Darsuniskis. There, they were forced to live in a sort of ghetto, together with the Jews from the town of Pakuonis and other communities. On August 15th 1941, the Jewish men were arrested and led to the Komanduliai forest, between Petrashun and Kaunas and there murdered by armed Lithuanians. Among the murdered, was also Rabbi Meir Levi. Only two Jews remained alive of all the Jewish population of Kruonis, the two married sisters (Khana Wolpe and Mikhal Feinberg) with their children. Their husbands were murdered by the local peasants.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 0-33/969; Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, file 147.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Di Yiddishe Encyclopedia, volume 6, the article “Yidden”, p. 371.
Gar, Josef, In Galoif fun Khoreve Heimen, New York 1952, pp. 14-15.
Gar, Josef, Viderklangen, Tel Aviv 1961, Part 1, pp. 11-87, 263; Part 2, pp. 9-10.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 3.1.1930.

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