“Vandziogala” - Lithuanian Jewry
(Lithuania)

55°07' / 23°58'

Translation of “Vandziogala” chapter from Yahadut Lita
(Lithuanian Jewry), Vols. 3 and 4

Published by The Association of The Lithuanian Jews in Israel

Published in Tel Aviv, 1967 (Vol. 3) and 1984 (Vol. 4)


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Acknowledgments

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Ada Green

 

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This is a translation from: Yahadut Lita: (Lithuanian Jewry), Vols. 3 and 4
Town Vandziogala, p. 310 (Vol. 3) and p. 280-281 (Vol. 4)


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[Page 310 - Volume 3]

Vandziogala

Translated by Miriam Goldwasser

Vandziogala is situated 24 km. from Kovno [Kaunas], 20 km. From Keidan [Kedainiai], 20 km. from Yanova [Jonava], 30 km. from Yosvein [Josvainiai] and 10 km. from Bobt [Babtai]. The distance to the nearest train station stop - 20 km.

The beginning of the Jewish settlement in this place is in the 17th century. However, only very few facts are known about its past. Before World War I the Jews constituted 95% of the general population. In 1915 the Jews were expelled from the town because they were suspected of sympathizing with the Germans. The majority of these Jews moved to Vilna and its environs. With the capture of Vilna by the Germans, the exiles started to return to their home town. In 1921 the Jews numbered 252 and in the years preceding the Holocaust their number neared 500 souls, but in the meantime the Christian population grew and became the majority in town.

The town's Jews dealt in trade (40%) and artisanry (45%). The rest occupied themselves with temporary jobs. There were no Jews in town who were in agriculture, but almost near every house there was a vegetable garden, which sometimes reached the size of a few hectares and supplied the family with vegetables throughout the entire year.

In the surrounding villages there were numerous Jews who lived among the Gentiles and were called “villagers” or “settlers.” Those “villagers” were real farmers. They were considered to be members of the village in every respect both in their deeds (actions) and in their giving.

Wednesday of every week was a market day and the citizens of the town always looked forward to that day. Four yearly fairs took place in the town. Peasants from near and far used to come to those fairs and bring with them for sale the fruits of their land and animals for slaughter. Artisans and small tradesmen from nearby towns and villages would arrive with their own produce. On market and fair days the trade in town blossomed in every corner and it brought the town to life, which was quite sleepy during the remainder of the year.

There were several small trade enterprises in town: woodcutting (under the ownership of Meir Labunovski), 2 workshops for tanning (belonging to Nachum Yona Koren), 2 workshops for making felt boots [translator's note: valenki in Russian] (belonging to Yisrael Pres) and a dying shop for fabrics and wool, which employed 12 workers.

The emigration of the inhabitants of the town to America had already started in the 1880's. It steadily increased until the start of World War I. In Independent Lithuania in the 1930's there grew the pressure of the Lithuanian cooperatives onto the Jewish traders and middlemen, so the waves of emigration to America grew stronger. Quite a few moved to Eretz Yisrael.

There was a synagogue and a Beit Midrash in town. In 1921 a new building for the synagogue was built instead of the 2 which existed before World War I. There were several cheders in town too. In Independent Lithuania the “Tarbut” school was established and about 30 children studied there. A number of children studied in the cheder and the best from among them transferred to the yeshivas in Kovno [Kaunas] and Slobodka [Vilijampole], and there were a few who attended the Hebrew Real Gymnasium [high school] in Kovno.

From among the rabbis: R. Tzemach Zaksh from Keidan, who later on served as the head of the Beit Din [Rabbinic Court] in New Zagare; R. Binyamin Beinosh died there [Vandziogala]; R. Yehoshua-Tzvi Rabinovich (who went to Eretz Yisrael in his old age and died in Jerusalem). He was the father of rabbis born in this place [Vandziogala]: R. Meir Rabinovich, the head of the Beit Din in Krok [Krakes] and Radoszkowice [Radoshkovichi, Belarus] (who is the father of the writer Dr. Mordechai Robinzon); R. Yakov-Gershon Rabinovich, head of the Beit Din in Survilishok [Surviliskis] (the father of the writer and bookseller R. Michael Rabinovich from Jerusalem) and R. Kalman Rabin (who worked in Kalvarija); R. Yakov from Rozlea (who moved from Vandziogala to Shkod [Skuodas]); R. Aharon Zeltzer (the son-in-law of R. Yisrael Izralit {Izraelit], who worked in Grodno. He resigned from the rabbinate and lived in town [Vandziogala] as a store owner); R. Nissan-Ovadia Rozenson (born in Krakinova [Krekenava] and studied in Vilkomir [Ukmerge] [translator's note: presumably there was a yeshiva in Vilkomir]. There he studied together with Malal [Moshe Leib Lilienblum] who was also a relative on his wife's side with Malal. He was given his rabbinic ordination by R. Yitzchak-Elchanon Spector and the very learned R. Bezalel HaCohen from Vilna [Vilnius]. He died in 5684 [1924]); R. Yisrael Rozenson and its last rabbi – R. Chaim son of R. Nachum-Yehuda Klibanov.

From among its children: R. Sholom Shachna (Epstein?), Chazan [Vandziogala genealogist Rony Golan's note: Shli'ach Tsibur, meaning the man who goes up to the Torah] of Nowogrod, Lomza district, famous for his cantorial singing in Polish towns; R. Yitzchak-Aizik Benjamin, head shochet to the Jewish Community in Montreal, Canada; R. Louis Ozer-Leib Minsky, a famous leader of his time in New York, son of R. Aharon Zeltzer.

(Page 280-281 - Volume 4)

Vandziogala is a small town in the Kovno district. Before the Holocaust it contained approximately 400 Jews.

The Germans entered Vandziogala on 24 June 1941. With their coming they passed the first edicts concerning the Jews: forbidden to walk on the pavements, forbidden to use buses - and in general not allowed to use any means of transportation. The first two weeks passed quietly, but on the doors of the Jewish houses and on the windows, with the help of the Lithuanians, they wrote “Jude” and they were also forced to wear the yellow patch. On 8 July 1941, 50 young and strong men and three women were taken out of their houses in order to put them to work. It was told that they were communists. 35 of the men and the three women were held in the local jail. The other 15, the older ones, all of them parents of those who were detained in the jail, were given shovels and under heavy guard of Germans and Lithuanians, were led to the cemetery. There they were forced to dig two big ditches.

The Germans and the Lithuanians returned to town in cars decorated with flowers and within them there were machine guns. They took the young ones out of the jail, arranged them in lines (rows), gave them into their hands a red flag and led them under heavy guard of tens of “activists”, who were drunk, to the cemetery. On their way they caught a Lithuanian who used to be a policeman under the Russian rule and also a Polish citizen and added them to the rows of the people being led. A young man, Gershon Friedman, joined voluntarily. He said: “If the verdict had been passed that all the Jews and all of my relatives will die, I will go with them too.” Among the escorted people there was also a young 14 year old boy, a member of the Matmid Yeshiva and also the past editor of the newspaper Folksblatt, Eliezer Shibolet.

At the cemetery all of them were shot in front of their parents, who had dug their graves. After that 11 of the 15 gravediggers were also shot. The shooter was a Lithuanian whose name was Rafelas Skibinivskis. Among the most active “activists” there was a Pole whose name was Felix Gutkovitz.

The four old remaining Jews, and among them also the father of Gershon Friedman, were ordered to return home. They refused and said that they want to be together with their sons. They were ordered to dig a grave near the bushes close to that area and there they were shot and buried. All the killed people had said the prayer Shma Yisrael during their last moments. The Lithuanians who had returned from the action would later ask what the words meant.

After this murder a relatively quiet month had passed. The girls were taken out to work in the murderers' houses; 25 girls were also taken to an estate for agricultural work.

On a Saturday, the 9th of August (the 16th of Av), the synagogue was surrounded during prayer by tens of “activists” who took out all the people who had been praying, approximately a hundred people, among them also the old rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Klibanov, who was already age 85. All of them were put into carts. Four girls were added to the men; it was said about them that they were “communists” and also one woman who didn't want to be separated from her husband. Before the carts started to roll, the old rabbi ordered the women who were crying bitterly not to sit shiva because the commandment to look after the children was a greater one. (The rabbi had passed the same ruling after the first 50 men had been killed).

The detainees were led to a nearby town called Bobt (Babtai), which was approximately 12 kms. from Vandziogala. There they were kept for two weeks in the synagogue and after that they were shot close to the town.

To the same place there were also brought the Jews who had been hiding at the estate of a Jew Pesach Labunovski.

From among the men 15 escaped. The search for them lasted for two weeks. Some were captured. It also happened that some women, under pressure and death threats, which the Lithuanian “activists” had applied to them, revealed the hiding places of their husbands. Some of the escapees managed to reach the Kovno ghetto.

On 28 August 1941, all the remaining Jews of the town were assembled in the market square: women, children, and a number of men who had been captured in the meantime. All of them were transported to Bobt (Babtai). They were shot in the same place, where the men had been shot previously. Many of the women refused the order to undress before their murder; they were separated from the others and tortured terribly. They were shot in their arms and legs and were buried together with the others while they were still alive. The Lithuanians turned the synagogue into a cow shed and with the tombstones from the cemetery they paved the sidewalks near their houses. From all the inhabitants of the community only seven survived. Three of them joined the partisans, and the others escaped from the Kovno ghetto eight months before it was liquidated.

All the property of the Vandziogala Jews was sold at a public auction.

The common grave in Vandziogala is inscribed by the list published in the book Mass Murder in Lithuania , part 2, which reads as follows:

The place - the forest Borko, approximately 1 km. from Vandziogala; the time - between 11th and 31st of July and also between the 28th of August and the 2nd of September; the number of the killed - 305 men, women and children.

On the common grave in Bobt (Babtai) it says on the same list:

The place - the woods of Bobt, approximately 2 kms. from the town, on the right side of the road in the direction of Memel (Klaipeda) on the bank of the river Nevi-aza; the time - 17th of July - 31st of August 1941; the number of killed - 91 men, women and children.


Source:

The testimony of Sara Labunovski, archive of Yad Vashem 1198/87.

See also:

“Vandziogala” - Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Lithuania

“Vandziogala” - Jewish Cities, Towns and Villages in Lithuania until 1918


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