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Seda (Siad)

56° 10'/ 22° 06'

Seda is in the northwest of Lithuania, 25 km from the regional capital, Mazeikiai. At the time of the German invasion some 200 Jewish families lived there. German forces were observed around Seda on the 2nd day of the invasion. Even before the arrival of the Germans the Lithuanian activists were being organised under the command of Kamatas Ustankos. They immediately began to round up young Jews, took them to the Jewish cemetery, and murdered them. Among the first victims were the brothers Binder, Kan, Popas and others. Realising what awaited them, the Jews of Seda felt great fear.

One day the activists took the Rabbi Mordechai Rabinowitz. One of the murderers who had brought the victims to the Jewish cemetery shot and wounded the Rabbi, left him to suffer in agony all night, and only returned in the morning to finish him off. Believing that the murderers wanted a sacrifice from the Jewish community, the old rebbetzin, widow of the late Rabbi Mordechai Graff, approached the doctor Schachat and the chemist Yonah Mosiah, both of them having a good relationship with the Lithuanians. The wife of Dr Schachat was a gentile Lithuanian and Yonah Masiah had been a leader in the local underworld. She asked them to inform the activists that she was prepared to sacrifice herself in order to stop the murder of the young Jews. The murders did not stop and the number of victims increased.

The market square in the centre of the town had two long walls running parallel, two metres apart. On each side were the stores belonging to the Jews. At the end of June or in early July, the activists forced the Jews to assemble in this narrow passage and held them there for many days without food or drink, in the most difficult and overcrowded conditions, surrounded by the stench of refuse and garbage.

The Jews were then moved to the nearby Jewish agricultural settlement called Zhidu-Dvaras (Jews' village). It consisted of about 250 acres divided among the 10 -12 Jewish families who earned their living from this land. On the 250 acres were dairies, stables, granaries and sheds. The younger males were separated from the women, children and elderly, and murdered nearby on 3 July.

At the beginning of August the remainder—women, children and elderly—were force-marched to Mazeikiai , with the old and sick transported on farmers' carts. They were taken to the old Jewish cemetery of Mazeikiai, where large pits had been dug. Armed Lithuanians were waiting there. All the Jews were murdered there together with the Jews of Mazeikiai and of the surrounding villages on 9 August 1941.

The last days of the Jewish remnants of the Seda community were described by one of the participants of the massacre, the activist Alfensas Rimsa, giving evidence at an inquiry on 2 October 1958.

In 1941, in the months of July and August, all the Jewish citizens of Seda were imprisoned. At the beginning they were held between the buildings that previously had been their stores. Afterwards in the granaries and dairy sheds of Zhidu-Dvaras, some distance outside of Seda.

In order to prevent any attempts to escape, I spent some days as their prison guard. In the month of August about 200 women, children and old people were taken to Mazeikiai and shot on the banks of the River Venta. I took part in herding them to the place of execution and then shooting them. Jews from places other than Seda were brought to the banks of the river and held. All together there were some thousands standing shoulder to shoulder.

Controlling the shooting was a commander from Mazeikiai unknown to me. As the Jews arrived, the stronger ones among them were made to dig the pits. On the orders of the commanders, we explained to the Jews that the pits were to store lime, in spite of the fact that we knew that these pits were to be their graves. As far as I can remember, the Jews dug two long channels. Among them were some who were naked and some in their underclothes. Those wearing simple clothes were shot as they were.

The activists who had brought them from the towns and villages organised them in groups, and then one group after another was shot.

One of the officers whom I did not know told us to fire upon the Jews in front of us. He also added that for each volley of fire there should be two activists, one to fire at the heads of the victims and the second at their chests. I was issued bullets from a case full of ammunition and was allowed to take as much as I wanted. Together with me in my group was Josias Vilnius and Stusis Zeima. After I had killed 20 persons, men and women, I left the group as I could not stand the screams of pain and death. As far as I can recollect, there were no children among them. The children were shot at another place by other activists. I do not remember what happened afterwards as I returned to the woods to bring an additional group to the pits. Some Germans arrived, but they did not take part in the shooting. Some of them were apparently officers, and they gave our commanders orders and advice. For my share of the shooting, I received 300 rubles and was able to partake of strong alcoholic drink of which there was more than enough at the place of the shooting.

The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, include the following:

Place - 500 metres from the village of Zhidu-Dubras (Jews' Village). Date - second half of 1941. Number who perished - 550.

Sources:

Witnesses:
Zalman Bloch – Migdal Ha-Emek, Israel.
Tzvi Tiger – Ramat Josef, Bat Yam, Israel.

In the Service of the SS, Government Publication of Political Information, Vilnius 1961, pp. 48-49.

The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 330.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 320.


Šeduva (Shadove)

55° 46'/ 23° 46'

The small town of Seduva is situated 40 km west of the regional capital Panevezys. Before World War II, the Jewish population consisted of 200 families (about 800 souls).

The German forces captured the town on 25 June 1941. The Lithuanian activists headed by the teacher Gorionos had already began to terrorize the Jews, even before the entry of the Germans. By the beginning of July they had forcibly expelled the Jews from their homes, maltreated them, moved their possessions that were needed in the ghetto, transported the Jews to the village of Pakuteniai, 5 km beyond Seduva, and locked them in a number of houses surrounded by barbed wire. Guards were positioned outside the wire.

The first ten victims were taken under the pretense of being put to work on the road to Radviliskis, and were shot next to some lime pits. The murderers covered the bodies with still burning lime. In mid-August the Lithuanian murderers took another 27 victims, among them Rabbi Mordechai David Henkin, past the village of Kaulalishkisi and killed them with rifle fire.

Then 35 Jews who at the beginning were made to do farm work were murdered at the “red estate” a few kilometers from Seduva and buried in the fields, which were afterwards plowed with a tractor. Three families, the only Jewish doctor in the area, Patovsky, and those from the Jewish Fighters' Front, Cooper and Noll, were kept alive in the town for 54 weeks and then also murdered.

Mrs. Shulamith Noll survived this massacre. She was not hit by the gunfire and fell between the bodies of murdered victims. The Lithuanians had decided to take a break to get drunk and did not cover the bodies in the pit at that time. Mrs. Noll, dressed only in undergarments, climbed out of the pit during the night and made her way to the church where luckily she met the priest, and she told him about the murders. He brought her some clothes and organized refuge with some local farmers, where she remained for the duration of Nazi occupation. While there she made contact with Jews in the Siauliai (Shavel) ghetto. When the ghetto was eliminated, she helped Gershon Kirpitznik hide with the same farmer. Both survived the war.

On the initiative of a number of Jews who survived, especially with the help of Isaac Balkar, memorial tombstones awere erected at all the sites where the Jews of Seduva had been murdered.

The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, include the following:

Place - Liaudiskiai forest about 10 km southwest of Seduva, one site 400 meters north of the Seduva road and a second site 900 meters northwest of the same road, close to a path in the forest. Date - 25-26 August 1944. Number who perished - 664 men, women and children.

Sources:

Witnesses:
Isaac Balkar, Jerusalem
Ephraim Cohen – questionnaire of the Central Council of Lithuanian Jews in Italy.

The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 362.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 363.


Seredžius (Shrednik)

55° 05'/ 23° 25'

The town of Seredzius (Shrednik) is on the banks of the narrow river between the towns of Vilnius and Vilkija. It was 40 km from the capital and also from the regional capital of Kaunas. In 1941 the Jewish community numbererd some 600 souls.

The following account is based on witnesses from surrounding areas as eyewitness accounts could not be found.

On the invasion of the Germans, the local Lithuanian authorities issued orders limiting the movements of Jews. Jews were expelled from their homes and forced to assemble at the synagogue, and their homes taken over by their Lithuanian neighbours.

Small groups of adult males, especially young males, were murdered first. The males were murdered at Vilkija on 28 August 1941 by firing squads. The women and children were murdered near the town on 3 September 1941.

The Small Lithuanian Encyclopedia records that 600 residents of Shrednik were murdered in 1941 by the Hitlerist nationalist local citizens, in the vicinity of the town, almost all of them Jews.

Sources:

The Small Lithuanian Encyclopedia, Chapter III, Vilnius, 1975.

The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Parts I and II, Vilnius, 1973.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 333.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 325.


Ukmergė (Vilkomir)

55° 15'/ 24° 45'

Part I

The town was called Wilkomierz in Polish, Vilkomir in Russian, Vilkomerge in Lithuanian and later Ukmerge. The name is derived from the many wolves (vilkas) that roamed in the area where Vilkomir was established. The river Sventoji runs through the town, dividing it into two parts: the new town and the river crossing where the poorer neighborhood was located.

In the early 13th century, the town was originally established on the hill nearest the river to guard the roads that passed through to Vilnius and Riga. Invasions from the West were stopped many times at the fortress built there, but in 1365 German tribes successfully invaded and destroyed the fortress. After the death of Prince Algirdas ir Kestutis, a crisis for succession developed between Princes Vitobet and Jogaila. In 1391 the former succeeded in conquering Vilkomir and again destroyed the [rebuilt] fortress.

In 1435 Swedrigaills, brother of Jogaila, invaded Lithuania at the head of a large army and reached Vilkomir. Here a great battle ensued where 10,000 men died. The victor was Zigmund Kestutis, who destroyed the invaders. To commemorate his victory, he named the river around which the battle had raged, the River Victoria. There he started a new settlement called Pole Walki (Polish for battlefield), 10 km from Vilkomir.

In 1487 while under Lithuanian Church rule, he together with Jaroslaw, King of Poland and Prince of Lithuania, built a large church in Vilkomir named after Patrus and Paulus. This church was razed to the ground numerous times, but each time was rebuilt and enlarged. King Stephen Batory and others granted to this church ownership of many tracts of land, of which a large part was allocated for the establishment of Vilkomir. Prince Zigismund (1505-1548) granted the town the rights of Lhe laws of Magdaburg and decreed that there should be two market days a week, Wednesday and Friday, and an annual market on 29 June on the holiday of Patrus and Paulus.

Because of the geographical locaion of the town and the crossroads near the banks of the River Sventoji, the river was open to sailboat traffic. From 1589 to 1792 the boatmen operated as a guild with a strict constitution, laying down the rules of sculling and navigation. The Boatman Guild and and its constitution also applied to the various merchants who had built storerooms on the banks of the river.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, because of obstacles such as rocks and the lowering of the water level, the river could be used only by flat-bottom barges. The town developed into an important commercial and administrative center and remained so until the Northern War of 1700-1701, when the Swedes conquered the town, burning and plundering on a grand scale.

In the Third Partition [of Poland] of 1795, Vilkomir was in the province of Vilnius under Russian law. Two years later it became a regional capital in the province of Lithuania. In 1802 it was returned to Vilnius but continued a regional capital. Although the Russians planned to make Vilkomir the provincial capital of Vilnius, with Anysciai the regional capital, the plan was not carried out. In 1842 Vilkomir was in the province of Kaunas.

Napoleon's army, which passed through in 1812, did not detrimentally affect the population and in the first Polish Revolt of 1831, Plater and his daughter Emelia (known as the Lithuanian Jeanne d'Arc) operated on the Polish side of the border. During this revolt there were many casualties on Plater's side and the Vilkomir population suffered from hunger for many years, particularly during the fires of 1878, 1895 and 1904.

In 1878 a fire broke out on market day and the whole town was ablaze. The Jewish Councils of Kaunas and Memel collected 25,000 rubles in cash and clothes to help relieve the suffering of the victims. Among the donors from other countries were the Rothschild and Montifiore families of England. After this fire of 1878, the town was completely rebuilt, the streets widened, a fire brigade formed, and because the town lay close to important roads, its recovery was very rapid. Nevertheless the Boatman's Guild was broken up and the town never again became the important commercial centre it had been.

During World War I the Russians evacuated the town, set many homes ablaze, destroyed the bridge over the river Sventoji, and robbed many of its inhabitants. German planes also helped in the general destruction, and many of the inhabitants were killed or disappeared. During their occupation the Germans built a narrow road connecting Vilkomir with Jonava. In 1918 there were many battles between the Poles and Red Army battalions in the area surrounding the town, and in 1919 the Lithuanian authorities took over.

Jewish settlement began in the 13th Century, perhaps even late in the 12th century. By 1665 the number of Jews in the settlement were 622, and they lived there under the patronage of the Princedom of Zamut. They were also given permission to build their first synagogue, called "River Crossing," and were also given an area for their cemetery. One of the first duties of the Chevra Kadisha was to restore the old tombstones, some of which dated back 300 years and of which a register had been kept by the community. The Jews were concentrated at the "River Crossing." Street names were "Egypt", "Bath", etc. The gentiles lived in a different section of the town, mainly on the Kaunas road.

In 1766 there were 716 Jews and by 1797 in the entire region of Vilkomir there were 6,088 Jews. By 1864 the town of Vilkomir alone had a Jewish population of 4,561. At that stage there were already two synagogues and 12 minyans. The census of 1897 showed 7287 Jews, which made up 53% of the population. By 1914 the Jews totalled 10,000. During World War I the Russians expelled the Jewish population with the exception of one person, Dr. Katzenellenbogen, who was to remain as the official military doctor, but he refused this honour and left with the rest of the Jews.

Many of them sought refuge in Russia and the rest sought temporary refuge in Vilnius and the surrounding areas. During the German occupation the Jews of the area of Vilnius moved to Vilkomir. Also seeking refuge there were Jews from other towns and surrounding settlements. In 1918 the Germans evacuated the town as the Red Army battalions approached. Also the Polish Army tried to control the town. The Jews, suspicious of the Poles and remembering previous periods under their rule, organised self-defence groups and sent a delegation to the Red Army, asking them to take over the town, which they did in January 1918, staying there for 6 months. Many Jews left and escaped to Gulevan, which had remained as a neutral area. Under pressure of the rebel battalions of Lithuanians, the Bolsheviks left the town.

The Jews, fed up with the Bolshevik rule, welcomed the Lithuanians who had promised equal rights to the Jews and to improve their situation. But after a number of days, riots began, after the Jews had had a meeting to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, and some shots were fired. The son of Tzvi Zildov, who had organised a Zionist Youth movement, was killed and many Jews were wounded. Hundreds were arrested and locked up at the jail and police station. Two young Jews, the sons of Baruch Bina and Leib Matovian, were sentenced to death on suspicion of being Communists and were buried alive at the village of Seta. Three hours after their burial they were pardoned by President Smetona. The victims were reinterred at the Jewish Cemetery. After intervention by Jewish businessmen, those arrested were released, including the Commandant Potar who was of Polish origin. After this, life returned to normal in the town. The Lithuanian authorities made a complete reversal and gave the Jews complete religious and national rights, allowing Jews to participate in the economic and public life of the country. Also the Jews who had sought refuge in Russia now began to return.

After the occupation of Vilnius by the Poles, thousands of refugees from there arrived and were welcomed with open arms by the Jews of Vilkomir. Their houses were opened to them, and they supplied them with all that they needed. The Joint Organisation also contributed to their relief and opened an office in the town. The Lithuanian authorities gave all the refugees temporary citizenship.

Hundreds of Jews of Vilkomir volunteered for the Lithuanian army and the Minister of Jewish Affairs, a Slovak, tried to calm down the Jews of the town after the following tragedy: during the battles with the Poles, a Polish aircraft had attacked Vilkomir, shooting up the town and scores of people were killed and wounded, among them Engineer Tshishli of Vilnius, the representative of the Joint Organization there.

In the elections for mayor and town council Jews came in with a large majority. The first mayor was Ben-Tzion Goldberg and many municipal employees were Jewish. Their handling of municipal affairs was more successful than that of the Lithuanians themselves.

Parties of left and right also stood for elections in the Jewish Community Council and the Chairman, Zionist Raphael Gwirskin, was elected unanimously. But differences developed between the Zionists and those against Zionism, as well as those of the left and right political parties. However, in spite of all that, the community managed to restore religious, educational and welfare institutions.

By 1921 the Jewish population was 7,000, growing to 8,000 in 1935 of a total population of 15,000. The original Jewish settlers were involved in the timber industry, as bargemen, and as traders of grain and linseed. Their contribution to commerce was large and active. Convoys of Jewish traders often passed through the town on the road to Vilnius, Kaunas, Petersburg and Warsaw. They built large storerooms and were active in the export of timber and linseed to Germany. The Jewish merchants were regular and honoured guests at the Konigsberg, Danzig and Stettin Commercial Exchanges. They also owned flour mills, and in the 19th Century there was even a guild of Jewish Millers. They also owned the brick burning kilns, all centralized on Egypt Street; workshops producing clay products; and some were textile merchants. The majority of grocery and hardware stores were owned by Jewish merchants.

Before World War I, there were 900 Jewish farmers in Vilkomir and the surrounding area. In the small village of Laibiskes (Leibishuk), 6 km along the road to Jonava, there lived dozens of Jewish families with their own synagogue, and the owner of the estate in the area was a friend of the Jews. Jews of the surrounding settlements were also Innkeepers. Among the Jewish tradesmen were builders (who also built the local churches), blacksmiths, metalworkers and tinsmiths. Their tailors produced clothes selling over a wide market as well as uniforms for the various armies which had passed through the town.

Wagon owners used to leave their homes at the completion of Shabbat and return before the eve of the next Shabbat. They were also the first to purchase and use the new motorised vehicles at the beginning of the 20th century. They were quick to keep up with the times and got rid of their horses and quickly learnt the mechanics of engined vehicles. There were also a number of hostels for merchants and other passing travellers. Until the 1930s, water pipes were unknown and the needs of the Jews for water were met by pumping from the river or wells.

In 1935 the Jews owned the following industries:

3 lumber mills
2 flour mills (Krikun and Orben)
1 leather goods factory (Zelik & Gerov Mishinomer)
1 ceramic tile factory
2 wineries
1 carton factory
1 soft drink factory
2 underwear factories
2 farming equipment factories
6 brickmaking yards
The Jewish National Bank opened a branch there in 1920, and by 1929 had 593 depositors. This bank provided important means for the economic life of the town. The manager was Israel Los and the treasurer Tzvi Zildow, and after him Moshe Glazer. There also existed two private banks, one owned by the brothers Eliahu and Aharon Yudelowitz, and the other by Yehuda Levit.

In the town there were 12 houses of prayer and many minyans. Among them was the Great Synagogue, built 300 years previously. The majority of the population used to pray there on Yom Kippur. There was also a study hall for the Chasidim of Chabad. The majority of the prayer houses served the tradesmen of the town, with one large one for the bosses and business owners, and there was much competition in the formation of choirs.

For many centuries, Vilkomir was the centre of Torah studies in Lithuania; therefore their Rabbis were the most important in the country. Before World War I there were 150 Baale Beitim (householders) certified to be Rabbis and in its yeshivot there were hundreds of excellent students. At the Beit Midrashim the Torah was studied 24 hours a day.

Vilkomir was also the stronghold of the Haredim and it became renowned as a town of zealots. In the 1860s, after the death of the town Rabbi Aharla, there developed two rival groups, the Chasidim and the Mitnagdim. When they wanted to put a Chasidic Rabbi together with a Mitnagdim Rabbi, violent arguments developed, especially during the days of Moshe-Leib Lilienblum, a native of Keidainiai who had married the daughter of Leib Dalugetz of Vilkomir. He stood at the head of the crisis with the zealots and sent his followers against the enemies of secular higher education and also demanded changes in the religious laws, until he was forced to leave the town. His writings, lectures, articles and poem "The Ghost Community," all bear witness to this crisis.

In the same period Vilkomir was active in the accumulation of funds for the early Moshavim/ot (settlements) in Palestine. In the later generations there was always much argument between the Zionist extremists from both left and right. Public life of the community revolved around these arguments and crises. During independent Lithuania these arguments continued between the Bolshevik Yiddishists and the Zionists over the establishment of a Hebrew High School there.

Before World War I there was a large yeshiva, a Talmud Torah and many study rooms. In the late 19th century, a government school was opened with Russian as the official language, as well as a Jewish school and a municipal school. A pre-high school and a high school to whic Jews were freely admitted were also established. Jewish students from these schools developed the Yiddish Bund and from among them also came many active Bolshevik underground revolutionaries.

At the time of the German occupation during World War I, the Yiddishists established a large library, a dramatic society, orchestra and choir. All these influenced the Bund and the Yiddishist movement in the town and surrounding region. Among the active workers were the teacher Sovlintsky and writer Kolinchik, famous afterwards as a poet and author of a novel based on the German occupation during World War I.

Jewish educational institutions at the time of Lithuanian Independence included the following: a large yeshiva at the old Beit Ha-Midrash; two high schools, one Hebrew and one general, that were combined into the Hebrew High School in 1934; a Yavne elementary school, whose the first principal was Abba Glickman, and then Yitzhak Shemes, may his blood be avenged, followed by the spiritual leader and teacher Toritz, may his blood be avenged; a cultural school, whose principal was Zeroch Viddokler; a technical high school; a cultural nursery school under Nachama Jaffe and then Yocheved Sakov; and two libraries. The yeshiva and high schools were only for Vilkomir and the neighboring towns and villages.

The community also ran numerous institutions, including a hospital administered by Dr. Eliezer Gling; a home for the aged first managed by Israel Levy; and an orphanage of 90 children named after its patron, local-born Sol Rosenblum, who also built the first cinema, whose income was used to maintain and manage the orphanage. Director of the orphanage was A. Zibutz.

A Talmud Torah was built in the name of the magnanimous Chaim Farinkel. There was a public pharmacy, the income of which was used to maintain a number of social institutions. Also the Jewish poor were provided with free medicine and free firewood from the community.

In the public life of Vilkomir were branches of all Zionist parties, Agudat Yisrael, Communists, HeChalutz; and youth movements, HaShomer HaTzair, Gordonia, and Betar, as well as sport organisations Maccabi, HaPoel, Jak. Also the Jewish Womens' Union was extremely active.

The town's Rabbis included: Rav Raphael HaCohen; Rav Shlomo Segal; Rav Chaim Muvlosian; Rav Yehuda Leib Zilkind; Rav Aharon; Rav Alexander HaCohen Kaplan, head of the Beit-Din at the time of Rav Aharon and author of the book The Vow of Peace on the subject of vows; Rav Benyamin Rabinowitz; Rav Moshe son of Rav Yehoshua Isaac Shapiro; Rav Shaul Padova (Rav Shaul from Polotsk); Rav Leib Rubin, the last Rav, Yosef Suzmanowitz, may his blood be avenged; and the last Rav of the River Crossing, Rav Yakov Reznick, may his blood be avenged.

Heads of the yeshiva included: Rav Eliahu Kemerman, Rav Moshe Graetz, Rav Alter Bravida, and Rav Leib Gordon. Famous students of the Vilkomir Yeshiva were Dr. Issar Gesfsburg, author Tzvi Nissan Golomb, and Rav Simha Itzhak Broide, who was among those massacred at Hebron in 1929.

Famous native born Rabbis included: Rav Tzvi-Hirsch Wilek; Rav Yakov Meskin; Rav Yosef Yoffe; Rav Israel-Yakov Yoffe; Rav Yehuda HaLevi Lipschitz; Rav Yehuda Leib Anolik, author of the poem "The Ways of Judgement"; Rav Yoel Zelig Zilkin; Rav Eliahu, son of Rav Shmuel Wilek, well known author who died in Jerusalem; Haredi businessmen Rav Yakov HaLevi Lipschitz; Rav Tzvi Hirsch, son of Rav Abraham Yitzhak Ram, author of the book Land of the Gazelle; Rav Chaim Rappaport, the ”Preacher of Vilkomir” who settled in Jerusalem in the 1890s and died there at the age of 101; Rav Arella Slomias scholar, public figure and great philanthropist who died in 1901; Rav Shlomo Aharls, author of The Defender and active in the Mizrahi movement, who settled in Eretz Israel in 1925 and died there in 1937; Rav Mendel Zilber; Rav Yakov Geffen, the man of Belz Dov Leibowitz of the Second Aliya; Tuvia Ziskind and his brothers Isiah Miller and Shlomo Sadawotz (son of David) Mashashik of the Third Aliya; Mordechai Weiss; Abraham Geiger; and Reuben Gordon.

Also of note are journalist Moshe Zeirt, chemist Sor Brandt, publishers M. Guntzer and Reuben Maas; poet Shraga Feigenson; journalist and author Kolchick; businessmen Rav Aharon Klatzko and Rav Shabtai Bornstein; industrialists and producers Chaim Frankel, Shmuel Blum, Sol Rosenblum, Tzvi Levitt, a major contractor to the Russian Army and very active for the benefit of the community; revolutionaries Sender Zildov and Abraham Motnick, Trotsky's secretary in 1917; the young poet Yechezkiel Praker, drowned at the age of 16; chazan and senior conductor of the choir at the Great Synagogue Yona Geffen, son of Korach; Ze'ev Stubalov (Kazan and businessman of England); Shlomo David Peletz (London); Friedman (Germany and England); Baruch Rubin, one of the first members of Young Zion in Lithuania, afterwards a lawyer in South Africa; the poet Shmuel-Nahum Stern, who translated Dante's Inferno into Yiddish; Yakov Levin, pioneer of Hertzlia; Chana Bohakov, sponsor of Hertzlia and one of the first settlers there.

Public figures of the last generation include: Bishko Elimelah Itzkovitz and his wife Esther Borstein, who was active in WIZO and women's rights not only in Lithuania but abroad; the brothers Israel and Shlomo Buknatz; son of Tzaddik Goldberg Rav Raphael Groskin; Zel Geren; D Glass; Itzak Janovsky; Israel London; Dr. S Sapir; Zipporah Dam; Dr. A. Krilinsky and his wife; engineer Baruch Cling; Dr. Eliezer Cling; Azriel-Yehuda and Nehama Levitt; Dr. Rachmiel; and Rav Nahum Zeev Braude.

Part II

In 1935 the Jewish population of Vilkomir was 8,000. On 25 June 1941 when the town was conquered by the Germans, many Jews who had fled from places in Western Lithuania were trapped here on their flight eastwards. Many Lithuanians immediately went wild, attacked Jewish homes, destroyed and murdered. They brutally forced the chemist Joseph Shalkan, who was 80 years of age, to run after a cart pulled by a wild horse, by tying him to it. When Dr. Aharon Cohen left the hospital to return home, he was shot and murdered in the middle of the road.

On the day that the town was overrun, two German soldiers were killed, apparently hit by stray bullets. This incident encouraged the wild Lithuanians to attack Jews. When the two soldiers were buried in the main square at the centre of the town, the Jews were blamed for firing on the soldiers.

Respected Jews and leaders of the community were arrested as witnesses. German soldiers entered the Jewish Hospital (Bikur Cholim) and forcibly rounded up the doctors and nurses. They also arrested the rabbis, lawyers and public figures. All of them were taken to the local jail with threats and blows. After that, they were forcibly marched to a large sandy plot adjoining one of the Christian cemeteries and there they were all brutally murdered. The leaders and instigators of these murders were the local Chief of the Secret Police Matzias Paskivitzios, the engineer Vatzios Daviakus, the driver Zivulanios who spoke Yiddish fluently, and Lalabiuda of the Polish section of the town. Paskiavatzios with his own hands stabbed Jews with a pair of scissors; Daviakus butchered the bodies of the Jewish scholars with a hatchet; and Zivulanius threw living people into the ditches. The Pole Lalabiuda took pleasure in dipping his hands in Jewish blood.

In the first week of the German occupation, 200 Jews were arrested on charges of cooperating with the Communists during the two years of Russian rule. The residents encouraged the murderers and on Friday 4 July 1941, the 200 Jews were transported to the Pivona Forest adjoining the village of Pasalina, 3 km from Vilkomir, and there were murdered and buried. In the middle of July Lithuanians stopped 12 Jewish girls in the centre of the town, tortured them brutally and then murdered them. At the beginning of August 1941 the Germans issued order to all Jews to vacate their homes and to move to a ghetto situated in the poor Christian neighborhood between Bolnick and Nikukar Lanes leading to the Secutanai River (Unteren Wasser). The Ghetto was not fenced off but was guarded by armed Lithuanians.

Every day Jewish men and even young women were taken for all sorts of forced labor, digging sewage ditches at various places in the town and surrounding areas. Not only were the Germans intent on forcing the Jews to work, but they also seized every opportunity to humiliate, ridicule and deride them. Numbers of honoured and aged Jews were taken and treated as playthings or for entertainment; to clean gutters in the streets of the town and to clean public latrines and similar places. The Germans especially enjoyed humiliating the tailor Noah Chisserk, who was very fat and very tall, as well as a the owner of an hotel and restaurant, Katy, a woman who was also very fat and tall. They marched Noah with a broom and Katy with a bucket, forcing them to clean the worst streets in the town. Germans and Lithuanians stood around to laugh and mock the comic pair.

The Germans often surrounded places frequented by young and healthy Jews and chose a number of men, marching them out of Vilkomir to work on the farms closer to Vilnius. On 8 August the Germans also collected a large number of young women from their places of work and marched them in the same direction. Afterwards, all of the men and women were taken to the Pivona Forest, murdered, and buried in ditches next to the underwear factory. During the month of August young men and women were transported to this forest from the surrounding towns and villages of Sirvintos, Balninkai, Alanta, Musninkai, Bagaslaviskis, Giedraicia, Sesuoliai, Kukliai, Vidiskiai, Siesikai and Jonava. In the great massacre of the Jews from these places that took place in the Pivona Forest on 5 September 1941, large numbers of the Jews of Vilkomir also perished.

The only people now remaining in the Ghetto were the old and sick, and women and children, but their fate came on 26 September. At the break of dawn, the Ghetto was surrounded by the armed guards and cruelly attacked by Germans and Lithuanians. The Jews were forced to leave their homes, taking only a small amount of food with them. They were told that they were being taken to a work camp where all the other Jews of Vilkomir were being held, and that they would be sorted out, all families together with children and parents reunited, and the traders sent to a proper work camp. At 9 a.m. the Jews were force marched to the Pivona Forest. There they were forced to undress completely and then the Germans fired at them with light machine guns.

One Jew, Eliahu Karunsky, a qualified electrician, was taken from the Ghetto to work for the Germans. He was the neighbour of a Christian who had taught him the electrical trade and they had worked in partnership for many years. Karunsky had remained alive even after his son and daughter perished in the Ghetto, but after they used his services as an electrician, he too was murdered.

A number of Jews from Vilkomir fled and hid at some farms and in the forests. They endured much hardship and moved from place to place, but not one of them succeeded in escaping the enemy. As they were caught, most of them were brought to the mass grave in the Pivona Forest and murdered there.

Among the last Jews to perish were Dr. David Gerev and a venerable old man, Abraham Pick. The Lithuanian surgeon Dr. Dumbris at the beginning defended and himself hid Dr Gerev, who served as his assistant in his clinic, and then Dr. Dumbris succeeded in hiding him with a farmer. Another person reported his presence and he was caught. The old man Pick hid for a long time in the flour mill, but again someone reported him.

After the war, on returning to Lithuania, the survivors began a search in the Pivona Forest for the mass graves of their martyred families and townspeople. The grave was not easy to find as high weeds covered a wide area. After much clearing, they found only three large graves, where human bones were scattered. According to farmers of the area who assisted them in their search, they were advised that in this place was a long wide channel that led up the slopes of a hill. This channel had been dug and completed by the Germans to bury the Jews that they had murdered. As there was not enough earth to cover all the bodies, the Germans had dragged some of the bodies to the shoulders of the hill and covered them there. This cover was thin and loose. It did not take long for the rains to uncover shallow graves, and after that grazing animals trampled and ate the weeds, and forest and field animals picked at the bodies.

The survivors of Vilkomir created a tradition to collect the bones of victims of Pivona, especially on Tisha bav, and bury them in a common grave. The surviving Jews of Vilkomir approached the municipal authorities to build a monument for the victims but the authorities refused, in spite of the fact that many of the victims had been butchered by the town's citizens. The Jews then took the initiative into their own hands, collected money, and in1950 built their own monument in the middle of the three common graves that were in a semi-circle in a flat open space. The monument was built of concrete 2-1/2 metres high and 1-1/2 metres wide.

Soviet clerks found in Vilkomir long lists of the records of 12,000 Jews with their names and ages, most likely the people of Vilkomir and the surrounding area who were murdered. Many survivors found the names of their loved ones and friends who were there at the time.

When a Jewish museum was opened in Vilnius at the initiative of some individual Jews, items that had been owned by the Jews of the communities of Lithuania were exhibited. The survivors of Vilkomir submitted this list of victims. On the closing of the hall containing the collection of stories of the Jews, the entire Museum was also closed, and the list of Vilkomir Jews disappeared together with many of the other exhibits.

The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, include the following:

Place - Pivona Forest 4 km southeast of Vilkomir. Dates – 1 August 1941, 19 August 1941, 5 September 1941. Number who perished - 6,354.

Place - farm adjoining the prison 5 km from Vilkomir in the direction of the town of Sesuoliai (Zsasalova). Date – 10 July, 1941. Number who perished - 83 men and women.

Sources:

Witnesses:
Sandler Shulman, Ramat Gan
Mordehai Pashkus, Karkur
Itzhak Nemenchik, USA
Dusia Morashchik-Kaplan, Tel Aviv.

The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 303.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 273.


Žasliai (Zhusli)

54° 52'/ 24° 36'

Zasliai is in the Trakai district, 10 km from Kaišiadorys (Kushidar) and halfway between Kaunas and Vilnius. There were 1, 000 Jewish residents living there in the year of the massacres, 1941. In the first days of the invasion, the Germans had already shelled the town. Part of the Jewish population attempted to escape eastwards into Russia, but they encountered the advancing German forces and were forced to return to Zasliai.

As the Soviet forces withdrew, the Lithuanian activists seized control of the town. Their first step was to round up those suspected of cooperation with the Soviets, both Jews and non-Jews. The arrested Jews immediately felt what their situation was and what fate awaited them. The non-Jews who had no serious charges against them were immediately released. The charges against the Jews were not investigated and the Jews were not permitted to try to prove their innocence. They were transported to Kaišiadorys (Kushidar), from which none of them returned.

After the “lovers of the Soviets” were dealt with, it was the turn of the rest of the Jews. Day after day the activists sent the Jews out to forced labor, mainly to clean the streets and do other kinds of menial labour. They were made to work from the early hours of the morning until about 5 p.m. Returning home, they would be arrested at the entrance to their homes. They were not provided with any food and they had to beg their gentile neighbors to sell them food at exorbitant prices or in exchange for precious personal items. Day and night the Jews were threatened by unexpected visitors, armed Lithuanians who broke into their homes, robbed them, shouted at them, and generally did whatever they wished.

In the middle of the night on 17 August 1941 the activists brought out all the men and some of the women, transported them to Kaišiadorys, bound and held them there for 10 days, and on 26 August murdered them in a wood adjoining Kaišiadorys. These Jews were buried there together with the Jews of Kaišiadorys and some Jews from the surrounding villages. The rest of the Jews of Zasliai were transported to Shilishek on 29 September 1941 and together with other Jews of the area were murdered on 6 October 1941 in the vicinity of that village.

Only three women and two children succeeded in escaping from these actions. They found shelter with local farmers and after difficult periods of concealment, reached freedom.

The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, include the following in the vicinity of Zasliai:

Place - woods of Kaišiadorys (Kushidar) in deep channels and pits. Date – 26 August, 1941. Number who perished – 1,911 men, women, and children.

Place - Smilishok on the forest paths, 200 metres northeast of the village. Time – 6 October 1941. Number who perished - 962 men, women, and children.

Sources:

Witness:
Raya Schiff-Berkman, Jerusalem.

The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 312.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 285.


Žeimelis (Zeimel)

56° 17'/ 24° 00'

Zeimelis is a small village in the Siauliai (Shavli) region of northern Lithuania, 30 km from Joniskis and on the Latvian border. Before 1941 about 50 Jewish families were living there.

The Germans arrived at the end of June, and for the first month of the occupation the Jews did not suffer from any unusual treatment. The tragedy started when the Lithuanian activists rounded up all the Jews on 8 August, led them two kilometers outside the village, and there murdered them with automatic gunfire.

The site has since been fenced in, but as of 1984 no monument had been erected, since the survivors had escaped to the Soviet Union.

The adopted son of the pharmacist Abraham Shulhoff was saved by two priests who testified that the boy was not Jewish.

A new immigrant to Israel brought to the Lochamei Hagetaot Museum a document found in Zeimelis immediately after the Germans withdrew from the village in 1944. It was a report from the mayor of Zeimelis to the head of the Siauliai Regional Council as follows: “In reply to your request No. 962 I advise that there were a total of 205 Jews, 160 of them executed on August 8, 1941. At present we have two Jewish women whose attempt to escape failed and we have sent them on to Zagare.”

The list of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, includes the following:

Place: forest near Vileisiai, two km from Zeimel. Date: 8 August, 1941. Number who perished: 160 Jewish men, women and children.

Sources:

Witnesses:
Feivel Zagarsky of Givatayim,
Zvi Kaf [?] of Kibbutz Afikim, recorded in the archives of Beit Lochamei Hagetaot

The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 313.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 286.


Žeimiai (Zeim)

55° 58'/ 23° 25'

Part I

The small village of Zeimiai was close to Jonava (14 km), Seta (12 km), Kedainiai (20 km), Vandziogala (20 km), Shaishik (15 km), and about 14 km.from the village Koplizia, a former Jewish settlement.

Before World War I about 60 Jewish families lived in the village, but at the period just before World War II only 20 families lived there, as most Jews had emigrated to South Africa and the U.S.A.

In the village was a Beit HaMidrash and a cheder of 10 pupils. The rabbis were Rav Chaim, son of Rav Yakov Glatzer; Rav Chaim Klivanov; followed by Rav Boviandzigola.

Part II

In late July 1941 or early August, the Zeimiai Jews were transported to Keidaniai into the Ghetto along with the Jewish residents of Keidaniai, and their fate was the same as that of the Keidaniai Jews.

Sources:

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 313.

Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 286.

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