By Simon Simonov
Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel and Max Sherman-Krelitz, Mexico City
The town Yurburg (Jurbarkas in Lithuanian) on the shore of the Neman river with its tributaries, the Mituva and the Imstra, is 100 km (62 miles) away from Kovno and 9 km (5 miles) away from Smaleninken. Its long and wide streets were paved with stones and there are concrete sidewalks on both sides. Forests and fields surrounded Yurburg.
The Lithuanians had inherited a big and beautiful park, which had belonged to the Russian Duke Vasilshchikov. In the middle of the park sprawled a palace, surrounded by bushes and flowers. On both sides of the palace beautiful buidings could be seen. These buildings housed the state-supported high school attended by the Yurburg Lithuanian (non-Jewish) youngsters and others from the vicinity. On Sunday afternoons the Fire Brigade band would play dance music and the public would have a pleasant time. Though most of the public were members of the Shauliai (who were anti-semitic) nationalist quasi-military organization, Jews also participated in the entertainment, called in Lituanian "Geguzhines."
One nice day Lithuanians decided to forbid the Jewish youth from participating in this entertainment. At the entrance of the park the Lithuanian extremists erected a sign: "Entrance of Jews and dogs is prohibited". This anti-semitic inscription was an insult to the Jewish population. Immediately a committee was formed, and it was decided to buy a nice garden with a big building. The garden was converted into a park and the building housed the Hebrew gymnasuim (high school) which served the Jewish population of Yurburg, Tavrig and other towns along the Neman river. The Jewish park was named "Tel-Aviv" in honor of the newly built town in Eretz-Yisrael. Jews appreciated the park; which was close to town and together with the high school the park formed an important cultural center. Every Sunday entertainment, concerts and sport were organized in the park.
In the mid-1930s 3,000 Jews lived in Yurburg. The community was concentrated in the center of the town. Lithuanians (non-Jews) lived in the surrounding areas of the town, but the Catholic church stood at the end of the Kovno street, the main street of the town. On Shabbath and Jewish holidays all the businesses were closed. Jews of Yurburg felt like they were living in a Jewish town, where Yiddish and also occasionally Hebrew were heard spoken in the streets.
Mondays and Thursdays were market days in Yurburg. The plot of land between the old wooden Synagogue and the solidly built [brick - still standing in the 1990s - note added] Beth-Midrash served as the market place for the Lithuanian peasants and the Jewish population. The Lithuanian peasants would sell agricultural products and the Jews would sell them haberdashery and other industrial goods.
The old wooden Synagogue, built in 1790, was famous in Lithuania and all over the world for its artistic wood carvings of the Aron-Ha Kodesh (sacred ark), the Bimah (pulpit) and the Chair of Eliyahu. In Yurburg there were many learned men, doctors, lawyers, bankers etc. Well known rabbis also came from Yurburg, the last one was Avraham Dimant, a famous Rabbi, a Dayan (religious judge) was Chaim-Reuven Rubinshtein. There was also a cantor Alperovitz who would write tunes for the lithurgical melodies for the Jewish High Holy Days.
In Yurburg there were two Jewish schools - the Yiddish school and the Hebrew School. The town also boasted a Hebrew High School and two libraries - The "Mendele" library (Yiddish books) and the "Brener" (Hebrew books) Library.
Several youth organizations were formed in Yurburg- "HeKhalutz", "Maccabi", Jewish Scouts - "HaShomer HaTsair," "Betar." Thanks to "HeKhalutz" a large number of youth immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael. Jewish political parties were active in town. The Jewish "Folksbank", the "Commerce Bank" and social institutions like "Bikur Kholim" (Sick Fund), "Hakhnasat Kala" (Fund for the Needy) and others were the famous Jewish institutions of Yurburg.
Jews made their living from different sources. In Yurburg there were steamship owners who employed a great number of staff. Other popular occupations were exporters, merchants, hotels owners, shopkeepers, artisans and workers.
When Hitler took over the rule in Germany it was immediately felt in Yurburg. The Lithuanian Sauliai and other anti-Semites became vocal. For many Jews it became difficult to make a living. Life was becoming harder with evey passing day, and for young people the future became doubtful. Some of the youth went to Eretz-Yisrael or abroad and others left for Kovno.
On June 22, 1941, at five o'clock in the morning, parts of the Nazi-German army invaded Yurburg. Dark clouds enveloped the future of the Jewish population. Only a couple of the Jews survived, and the entire community perished. In the first "action" 350 men were murdered, among them 40 Lithuanian communists. The remaining men, women and children of the Jewish population were murdered and buried in a forest near Smaleninken.[note added: Many of the murderers were the Lithuanians themselves.]
In 1945 Yurburg was freed from the murderers, but unfortunately no Jews were left in YurburgÉonly pain remained in our hearts forever.
By Motl (Mordechai) Zilber
Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel
English Editied by Fania Hillelson Jivotovsky, Montreal, Canada
This is a story that sounds like a dream.
Forty years have passed since I left Yurberik and I still see it in my eyes as if it was yesterday. I have traveled the world - Russia and France, Canada and USA and now- Israel, but I could never forget Yurberik, it has always been in my heart. Yurberik has always remained in the hearts of all the Yurberikers who were scattered all over the world.
I often think about Yurberik, I see it in my fantasies where I visit Yurberik often. I meet with the people, my friends and I recall events. I visit places and forget that Yurberik was in ashes after the Nazis and the Lithuanians burned down the town; I forget that the people of the town were taken by force and murdered. I want to forget all thatÉI go back to the past, when Yurberik was alive and we were happyÉ
I see the town as I open the iron gates of Duke Vasilshchikov's park. The park is fenced in with a stone wall. The entrance is through an iron gate between three thick brick pillars. In front I see the ruins of the Duke's palace. The palace sprawls near the Mituva river and on the other side, in the forest near the meadow there still is a wooden mushroom, its cap is red, its stem is white and it is covered with many inscriptions of couples in love. The duke built it, apparently, as to protect couples from rain.
The duke would come here only in summer months, and nobody would be allowed to walk near the palace, except outside the property . There were two other buildings - both for the servants. Later the buildings would house the Lithuanian high school. The duke had everything he wished for his comfort - a greenhouse covered with glass, stables, workrooms and a beer brewery outside Yurberik.
The legend goes that one of the duke's ancestors was the lover of Queen Katharine II, like brothers Orlovs and others, after the love became cooler, she would "exile" her lovers, endow them with estates at the borders of the great Russian Empire. Our duke Vasilshchikov was one of those who were "exiled" to our town of Yurberik.
Before we leave the park we will see a small Pravoslavic church. It is a small church built for the duke and his family and for the servants. People said that the big stone in front was a meteorite, a body that fell from the sky.
Now we are going back. On the right side of the building there are the two movie theaters of Yurberik. On the screen of the movie theaters we saw the films of Emil Janings, Marlene Dietrich, Konrad Vaidt, Paula Negri and sometimes performances of Ivan Mazhukhin.
The house of the Altmans was next to the movie theater. This was the house of the diva of Yurberik, Fanichka Altman. With her excellent voice she made her listeners fall in love with her.
And here is the Imstra, a small creek flowing into the Mituva and then into the Neman. In summer a hen could cross the creek without wetting "hens feet", but in spring when the Neman was full of ice tide would flood the areas around. Then in this part of the town people would use boats, like in Venice. Even the priests garden was flooded.
Let us look at the side lane which leads to the park. The house of the Levinsons is there and on the porch two boys are waiting- they are Tony and Izzy Levinson (now in South Africa). They are waiting for their father who works in the "Taryba" (Town Council). On the left there is a narrow lane along the Imstra leading to Rassein street. It passes along the priest's garden and house. A small wooden bridge crosses the Imstra. It is so good to stand on the bridge and look at the small fish in the waters of the Imstra. Tailor Chertok lives near the bridge, he suffers greatly from the floods .
The road right of the bridge leads to the Mituva where the steamships are mooring before winter comes.
Our way leads us to the Kovno street, past a church fenced by a stone wall. The church has two high towers and looks like a big fortress. It is a praying house for the entire community. The rural population gathers here. When someone dies the body is brought to the church and photographer [Natan] Abramson takes the last picture. The same happens when there is a wedding.
The rural community of Yurberik is considered rich. It was said that the Jewish population of Yurberik participated in financing the construction of the church with the calculation that it will increase the living opportunities of the town.
In front of the church, to the right, a road leads to the Neman River. If you have time, let us wait for a steamship coming from Kovno in the afternoon - may be it is the staemship "Laisve", or the "Lietuva" or may be the "Kestutis".
Afterwards it will be announced who arrived. 20 people and 3 Germans, they would say. Like Germans could not be counted among people.
The road leads us through the Kovno street; opposite the church we see the house of the Leipzigers . Eliezer Leipziger, was a very talented person, a lawyer and later the director of the Hebrew high school. . He married Fani Krechmer. At the end he and his wife were murdered by the bloody animals. This was also the house of Freidale Leipziger, today a teacher in Kibbutz Afikim.
Over there is the house of the "Minzers," a fine Jewish family, with two beautiful daughters and one son who immigrated to Cuba. He is a tailor and I unfortunately forgot his name.
And then there is the second movie theater of Yurberik. Films are shown by Pola Skeltz and an older woman. Skeltz has several trades but makes a poor living. He plays music at Jewish weddings, he catches fish. When he plays at a Jewish wedding, he would play a "Krakowiak". He is an ardent Polish patriot and when he plays the "Krakowiak" he becomes very exited, sings in a high pitched voice and stomps with his feet. After the movie is over he goes to the boarding house at the Feinberg's . An old bachelor who, people say, plays the violin in the middle of the night when nobody hears. I never saw anybody coming to his boarding house.
And here is the green house of the Aizenshtats, the brothers Aizenshtat. They were considered the "elite" of the town. Liova died young from Typhus. He was married with Betty Yazelit. A sister, Leana Aizenshtat, lives in Canada. Opposite the Aizenshatats is the great yard of the Feinbergs. They are four brothers and one sister. They are considered the rich people in town. They own a sawmill, a flour mill and the power station. We get electricity from 6 o'clock PM until 12 o'clock midnight. Before the power is switched off we hear a warning to the public: "Here, we are getting off..."
One of the Feinberg brothers, Meir, is in arts, he declaimed very good in Russian and we enjoyed not once his declamations.
It's a pity that we didn't receive the end of his descriptions...Motl (Mordekhai) passed away...all his friends and relatives will never forget him .
By Ben Dvorah
( from the periodical "Funken")
Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel
English Editied by Fania Hillelson Jivotovsky, Montreal, Canada
Several kilometers before reaching Yurburg you can immediately feel the ambiance of Western Europe. The fields are more intensly cultivated and exploited. The behavior of the rural population is more cultural. The German border is already close and its smells German
Yurburg makes a nice impression. Wide streets, many quite nice buildings, nice shops with pretty shopwindows are adding to the impression of a big town. Also the landscape of Yurburg is pretty. On one side - the Neman river and on the other side - the sportive Imstra, flooding the whole area and causing much damage, when the ice in the Neman starts moving. This pleasing geographic situation helps the Yurburg population to make its living. The forests serve as recreation and rest areas. Its obvious why the Health Department has established in town one of its two centers and hospitals for respiratory desease. The marvelous park, that once belonged to the Russian duke Vasilshchikov adds to the beauty of Yurburg. The backbone of the economic life of Yurburg is the Neman River. Many Jewish families make their living from this big river. When the favorite summer season comes life around Neman becomes intense. The several tens of steamships, belonging to Yurburg citizens, sail without pause upstream and downstream the Neman River.
Rafts are floating by and the oarsmen buy their necessities here. Carts, harnessed with strong horses, are going to and from the river bank carrying stones, timber and other goods brought by the steamships.
Tens of meters of fish nets are put in the water by fishermen, whose life is strongly linked with the Neman. The Neman is the very life source and the pride of Yurburg Jews.
The population of Yurburg is mixed. In addition to Lithuanians and Jews, there are large German and Russian colonies. They all have their priests, their churches and schools. For some time the mayor of Yurburg was a German. Yurburg is a clean and relaxed town. All state, municipal and Jewish institutions have suitable and more or less convenient offices. All Jewish schools in bigger towns than Yurburg could only wish to have such facilities like the Hebrew and the Yiddish schools here. The Hebrew high school has its own building with a big and beautiful park named "Tel-Aviv", where all the entertainment takes place.
Though the economic crisis has affected Yurburg as well, but it seems that the Jews don't loose hope for better days to come.
Yurburg is proud of its beautiful Beth-Midrash, but in particular they cherish their really interesting old synagogue. The Aron-Kodesh of the synagogue is a rare object of art in wood carving. Also the Bimah is beautiful. The blind Shamash of the synagogue complained to me that the Bimah was carved by another artist, who was jealous of the person who built the Aron-Kodesh and for that he concealed the Aron-Kodesh with the Bimah
The older generation of Yurburg has special sense of self-esteem. They are classic-nicely dressed folks, with felt hats and dark gray summer coats as they come on holidays to the synagogue. Yurburg has a large number of students, boys and girls, who are studying in Kovno and many others abroad.
Yurburg was never looking for public and political activity, for that it got a Jewish-democratic Kehilah (Community Committee) late. In Yurburg there are no extremists. The Zionists, the orthodox and the Yiddishists don't make much noise. Its characteristic for Yurburg to have a Gabbai of the old synagogue Alter Shimonov who also happens to be the dentist, a man with a modern outlook and manners, a sympathizer of Zionism, who goes to the Beth Midrash on Shabbat and every morning put on phylacteries and would not eat dinner before a "ma'ariv" prayer. On Friday evening you can see the wife of the dentist lighting candles. On the other side we can see an important personality living in Yurburg with a woman whom he married in a civil wedding.
The relations between the Jews and Lithuanians in Yurburg are generally friendly. The Jews and the Lithuanians are proud of the fact that Yurburg gave Lithuania several famous personalities. Jews of Yurburg became reknown scientists, writers, artists and philanthropists and Lithuanians became such stately people as professor Tamashaitis, consul Sidrauskas, prosecutor Bila, lawyer and public worker Taliushis.
Many projects were planned to improve the economic situation of Yurburg , such as pavement of new roads, improvement of transportation and other projects that promised a better future.
But all these were pleasant dreams. For the Jews the future would be bitter. During three months-in the summer 1941-the Jewish Yurburg was annihilated by Nazi-German soldiers with the active help of cruel Lithuanians with whom Jews lived together for generations and where Jews established their homes on Lithuanian soil.
Adapted by Z. Poran
Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel
English edited by Sarah and Mordekhai Kopfstein, Haifa, Israel
On Wednesday, the 17th of March 1937, at 1 pm, the section of the Neman river adjacent to Yurburg awoke from its winter sleep. As happens each year, so this year too, curious people gather on the banks of the Neman, happy to see the ice move and hoping that by Pesach a steamship will already sail on the river. The Neman flows at such speed that you can hear the ice blocks crashing. And so, standing there in circles and debating the subjects of ice, water, floods, they suddenly look back and see that the water is already creeping up behind them.
The flow continues relentlessly at full speed up to a blockage near Smaleninken, as a result of which the water level in Yurburg rises more and more. At 5 P.M. the municipal siren wails for help.
People start to run, all curious to see how the water is rushing into the town. Police, firemen and all citizens are on duty to fight the intruding water
Slowly the market is flooded and water is even flowing into Kovno street. At first the flow is slow, but then it increases in strength and volume.
Yatkever (Butcher) street begins to flood - a howl, a yell: "Help! Rescue! We are inundated!" Mothers with sleeping children in their hands call for a boat to take them to a dry patch, panic is great.
A Jewish woman stands in the water, her hair disheveled, complaining to her neighbors that her stove, which had been renovated just a year ago, is now disintegrating, and in another woman's flat the table and chairs are swimming.
Lots of people congregate in Kovno street, half of which is already flooded. It is now late evening, electric lights are on, small boats sailing to and for. People are walking on the still-dry sidewalks, but for the young this is entertainment, just like Venice!
Nobody is thinking of going to bed. The time is already 1 am, 2 am, 3 am, and the water is still slowly flooding more and more areas.
The shop owners of Kovno street decide to move goods from lower shelves to the upper ones, thus packages of goods, appliances, cigarettes and textiles are lifted up. Some put the goods on chairs in order to have them at least a few inches above the surface of the water. People are standing on sidewalks about to be flooded and wait, maybe God will show mercy -
On the other side of Kovno street the situation is also bad. Here is a boat with bedding, there one evacuating children and old people from dangerous places, someone is running with a package on his shoulders, and someone else with a table. Policemen are patrolling the streets, helping victims and guarding against looting. It is already 7 am in the morning and the water level is still rising. The "padriads" (special bakeries for Matzah baking) ought to be baking Matzos for Pesach, which is already imminent. What can be done? Peasants are coming to the market and stop, they are scared. The market place is inundated.
Jews are standing around, worried and waiting for a miracle. Waiting and waiting - and suddenly - a miracle! The water starts to recede. Yurburg citizens lift their heads and smile - but most of them immediately feel the painful aftermath and cry silently. What will be? What will be? A help committee is set up immediately, but the damage is great. Can the committee manage to relieve the damage?
The situation is bad. But during all previous years of flooding people get over it and this year too they will recover and start again. True, the damage is great. May be the committee will be able to help. We must hope - because it is forbidden to lose hope!
Flood in the Shtetl
Translated from Yiddish by Yosef Rosin, Haifa, Israel
English edited by Fania Hilelson Jivotovsky, Montreal, Canada
The article "The town of Jurbarkas" was published in the Yiddish daily newspaper "Folksblat" on July 16, 1939, in the days of the deep crisis for Lithuanian Jews just before the outbreak of World War II. The anonymous author of this article, as it seems from its content, was one of the supporters of the Yiddishist anti-Zionist circles, as he criticizes the Jewish youth who are getting Zionist education, and are interested only in "Hakhsharah" (preparation for moving to Palestine) and certificates for Aliyah. The author is disappointed that these Jews are not concerned with strengthening the (local) "existence "---what "existence " in the Diaspora.
The town Yurburg is located in Raseiniai district. It has long, beautiful, wide streets, with concrete sidewalks on both sides, nice houses; some of them built in brick. It is getting more modern and spread out. A new quarter of the town was built, and it is called the New Town- reaching villages nearby. In the New Town a park was planted, where a monument for Vytautas the Great was built. Near the park you can see the Yurburg stadium. In the old-town, as we call it now, the old buildings are being demolished.
This difficult situation affects the poor and they are becoming weaker. Some will not have a place to live because the rents are becoming higher and there are no opportunities to earn a living in Yurburg. They used to live in small affordable houses but Yurburg is becoming more modern but not through private undertakings. The builders are the state and the municipality.
The municipality built a slaughterhouse and is maintaining the streets. The government built a second floor for the Yurburg Lung Sanitarium. This was the only Sanitarium in Yurburg. A road was also constructed several kilometers long joining Klaipeda and Jurbarkas. Two concrete bridges were built over the rivers of "Imstra" and "Mituva".
The government also intends to build a harbor for the steamships.
Yurburg is like a valley between high mountains. Around Yurburg there are big areas with splendid forests and fields with hills and valleys. There are two parks - one is the Jewish park named "Tel-Aviv" where trees and their branches look like in a dream, inviting passers-by to enter and smell their pleasant odors. The second park is the Lithuanian Park, well maintained and in a continuous process of maintenance. Once it belonged to a Russian duke, today it belongs to the Lithuanian high school. The park has tens of paths, one very small leading to the Mituva, which is winding between the park and the forest. One big path leads to a place behind the park where you can see all the Yurburg surroundings.
The third river is the Neman running along the shores of the town. The steamship traffic connects Yurburg with the economic and political center of Kaunas.
When a newcomer arrives to Yurburg he is impressed with the beautiful nature around town. The town is home for 6,000 people, 2,000 Jews among them from different social classes: merchants, artisans, and shopkeepers. The town is facing an economic decline it has been affected by the big world crisis, and by the persistent phenomenon of Hitler politics which slows trade with Germany.
Although Yurburg does not compare with other towns, there are people here too who learnedto hate. These are the so-called Lithuanian patriots who consider only their own pockets. They have their own shops and call for boycott of the Jewish business.
Often we can hear anti-Semitic slogans not only from the simple folks but more from the youth and the "Intelligencia".
The only institution watching over the Jewish economic situation is the Folksbank, which gives out loans. But how can the loans help when there is nowhere to use the money? From the cultural standpoint our town is better off than the adjacent towns. It has a state high school, 4 elementary schools, (2 Lithuanian schools, 1 Hebrew School and 1 Yiddish School), a Hebrew high school, a Lithuanian agricultural school, 2 libraries named after Mendele and Brenner.
Jewish children don't go to either the Lithuanian high school or the elementary school. Most of them attend meetings of "HeKhalutz" and "Betar". They care only about "Hakhsharah" and certificates, but not about the local Jewish Community.
We also have an advantage of having the famous Lithuanian sculptor H.Gribas live in the area, his monuments can be seen in many cities and towns of Lithuania. Yurburg citizens are proud of their town and are proud to show their town to visitors.
The first object of pride a Yurburger could show a newcomer is the ancient synagogue built in 1790 with its rare fixtures. The second object is the atelier of the sculptor Gribas with its marvelous artistic works. The third thing to show would be the beauty of nature [in and surrounding the town].
There is a cinema in town with occasional shows of nice films. It still belongs to Jews. There is little industry in town. Nonetheless, there is a small furniture factory which was awarded a medal at an exhibition abroad and a flourmill with a power station.
The economic and social situation of our town is very sad, but let us not be depressed. One hour before dawn it becomes very dark and there is a struggle between darkness and light where the light becomes the winner.
[Pages 88 - 113]
(From the Lithuanian Encyclopedia)
Translated into Hebrew by S. Simonov
Translated by Irene Emodi, Tel Aviv
(Note added by Joel Alpert: During this period there were either no Jews or at most two Jewish families in Yurburg)
The town of Yurburg in the Soviet republic of Lithuania is surrounded by the Neman and Mituva rivers.
The town is 12 kms. (7 miles) away from the borders of the Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg) district.
In 1959 - 4,422 inhabitants - situated on the right side of the Neman on a low and sandy place. The area was 413 hectars.
Yurburg's old city was established close to the shore of the Neman. The buildings in the center of town were built in the Gothic style. The streets of the new town were well planned. The main part of town was built on the left side of the Mituva; the small Imstra river crossed it in part. Development was started on the right side of the during the years of the Soviet regime.
The shore of the Neman includes a strip of soft sand over 1 km. Not far from the town - the Smalinikai forest - and the large Wasvile (Vashvile). In the southern part of town there is a large factory for processing linen seeds (established in 1950).
[The town contained] a boat dock, the base of the Ministry of Transport, a butter factory (established in 1931), a saw mill, carpentry workshops, factories for production of blocks and tiles, a flour mill, bakery and the Neman fisherman's harbor.
Now roads connect Yurburg to Kaunas (Kovna) and Klaipeda (Memel). Roads lead to Raseiniai (Rasein) and Skaudvile (Shkudvil). A ferry crosses the Neman from Yurburg to the other side of the river and from there to Shaki. Steamships sail to Kaunas and Klaipeda.
Most streets are covered in asphalt - where transport is is provided by buses. On the site of the market, the entire center of town is presently covered in green.
On both sides of the Mituva is the park of the former Kniaz, from the 19th century. In 1950 a memorial statue was set up here to honor sculptor I.Grivas. At the end of the park is a cemetery for those who fell in the battles of World War II. There is a 100-beds hospital in town, built before World War I, and a hospital for tuberculosis patients. There is a 30-beds maternity ward at the hospital.
Culture and education - As early as in the 18th century a high school was established in town. In 1924-27 a pro-gymnasium existed in Yurburg - "Saule" (Sun) and from 1931 a national gymnasium. There is also an evening school for high school education (1946-53 - pro gymnasium), a kindergarten for children, in 1947 a cultural center was set up, a cinema and 300-seats theater. A museum in memory of I.Grivas was established in 1956. From 1963 there is a regional newspaper called "Sviesa" (Schviessa) ("Light") in town. Before that there was a newspaper called the "Flag" (1949-62).
In the northern part of town was the "Bishpil"(?) mountain, crossed by the Imstra, creating a deep valley. On top of the mountain was a look-out post from which the 5 m. (17 feet) high wall of the old castle could be seen. At the observation post remnants of an ancient culture could be seen. In excavations various archeological findings were uncovered, such as ceramic utensils, bows and arrows and other articles from the 12th and 14th century. Some of them were transferred to the history museum in Kaunas. On the shore of the Neman, 3 kms. (2 miles) from the mouth of the Mituva - there were 2 small hills called "Bishpiliokais", from which there was a good view of the surroundings. It is thought that the Georgenburg (Yurenburg) fortress stood on these hills, mentioned in the German chronicles and used as one of the ancient crusader fortresses along the Neman.
In 1259 or close to this year, the "Bishpil" mountain was established by the Lithuanians. In 1260 the Lithuanians led by Dorbas attacked the crusaders who retreated from Georgenburg.
In 1353 the crusaders returned and took over the fortress again. Battles continued here almost until the 15th century. In early 1403 the fortress was set on fire by Vytautas' army.
After the Zalgiris battle, where the crusaders were defeated, the place lost its strategic value. When the crusaders retreated the place called Yurburg started to develop as a permanent settlement.
In 1422 when the borders of Lithuania were determined, Yurburg turned into a border point. In the first half of the 15th century a customs post was set up here as it was an important commercial point, and also because of the Neman river, which was a passageway for goods from Kovna to Tilzit, Memel (Klaipda) and Koenigsberg.
The town started to grow quickly and mainly gained its commercial importance since the 16th century, when trees started to be harvested from in the surrounding forests for transport to Gdansk and Koenigsberg where boats were built.
In 1557 the first primary school was established. In 1611 the Mandenburg Law was accepted in Yurburg and already then it had 3000 inhabitants. Yurburg maintained its status as a commercial center till the 19th century. Already in 1862 goods passed through customs in Yurburg in the sum of about 10 million rubles. In those days railway tracks started to be laid and this affected Yurburg's importance as a commercial center.
In 1864 there were 320 families in Yurburg with 2659 inhabitants; in 1880 3000; in 1901 Yurburg served as a "transit station" for the "Iskra" underground newspaper edited by Y. Lenin, which was sent from Germany to Kovna. In 1906 a large part of the town burnt down. In 1915 the German army destroyed the town which at that time already had the status of district town. In 1923 there were 4409 inhabitants in Yurburg.
Small factories started to be established in town, such as a flour mill and windmill which supplied electricity, a saw mill and dairy. The branch of the Lithuanian bank was opened and the agricultural bank, in addition to small private and public banks (*).
Trade stores were also opened, a hospital, schools, a library, orphanages and a home for the elderly. In 1928-33 illegal material of the Communist party continued to be transferred through Yurburg from Germany to Kovna.
In the period of the conservative regime rightist parties were active in Lithuania as well as the Communist party L.K.P.-L.K.J.S. A branch of the Red Cross was also active in town. From 1929 the sculptor I. Grivas lived and worked in Yurburg. He was murdered by the German conquerors in 1941 together with another 350 inhabitants (Jews) of Yurburg. During World War II Soviet soldiers fought heroic battles against the German fascists, such as Prolov, S.Sergejev, I.Tolstikov. They received the "Hero of the Soviet Union" medal. After World War II the town was rebuilt, its main streets were expanded. Many houses were built, public institutions set up, among them a new high school (1960) and a cinema - a new theater (1960). Yurburg lies on both sides of the road leading to Klaipda (Memel).
(*) Editor's note - At that time the Jewish Volks Bank was also set up in Yurburg which served the Jewish population. According to Holocaust survivors who visited Yurburg in recent years the town developed at a fast pace, but there are hardly any Jews. One family lives in Yurburg (?) which returned to settle there, the last remnant of the lively Jewish center which existed and is no more.
Unfortunately, there is no mention in the encyclopedia of the bitter fact that in 1941 when the Nazis entered Yurburg - in June, July, August and September - over 2000 defenseless Jews were brutally murdered, men, women children and old people; with the active assistance of the fascist Lithuanian murderers who had been the Jews' neighbors for hundreds of years and had built and developed the town together and finally - as a reward for what they had done - the Jews were murdered without mercy.
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