Taragin is situated in the northeastern part of Lithuania on the shore of Lake Tauragnas about 15 km south east from the district administrative capitol Utyan (Utena). In historical sources from the end of the 16th century Taragin is mentioned as a village and an estate bearing the same name. Later the estate belonged to the noble family Poslovsky. In 1792 regular market days took place in town and several taverns and a workshop produced alcohol acted there.
Until 1795 Taragin was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times Russia, Prussia and Austria caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of Lithuania which included Taragin fell under czarist Russian rule, firstly as part of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 part of the Kovno province. Taragin was then a county administrative center in the Novo-Alexandrovsk (Zarasai) district with 263 people in 1859. Despite this Taragin was an underdeveloped town. There were in it only 2 public wells and its inhabitants had to carry water in barrels from the lake. During the Lithuanian rule (1918-1940) as well, most of its streets were unpaved and till the second half of the 1930s there was no electricity in town, but it had a natural beautiful view which attracted vacationers.
Jews settled in Taragin in the 18th century. During the next years they established community institutions in center of them the Beth-Midrash and the Kloiz.
They made their living mainly of peddling, commerce, craft and agriculture. The fire of the end of 1893 ruined 50 Jewish houses. Despite the increasing emigration abroad 120 Jewish families still left in town before World War I.
Taragin Jews appear in lists of donors for buying land in Eretz-Yisrael. The collector was Yits'hak Shakhatovitz.
In 1897 there were in Taragin 1,070 citizens of them 596 Jews (56%).
On February 16, 1918, the establishment of the Lithuanian State was proclaimed. Consequently the German army withdrew from the area, and life in Taragin gradually returned to normal.
Following the law of autonomy for minorities, issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Menakhem (Max) Soloveitshik ordered elections to Community Committees (Va'ad Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. The elections in Taragin took place in 1922 and Committee of 5 members was elected headed by Yits'hak Rapaport. The Committee, active till the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled, was in charge of all aspects of community life.
According to the first census conducted in 1923 by the Lithuanian government, the population of Taragin totaled 999 people and of them 477 (48%) were Jewish.
The economic situation of Taragin's Jews was poor. Also in this period, like before World War I, the main livelihood was small commerce and craft. According to the government survey on shops in the state, performed in 1931, there were in Taragin 7 Jewish owned shops: 3 textile, 1 restaurant, 1 wool combing workshop and 2 weaving work shops. 5 telephones were in town in 1939, but only one of them belonged to the Jewish doctor Leib Romanov.
In 1937 23 Jewish artisans acted in town: 5 tailors, 4 oven builders, 3 knitters, 2 butchers, 2 glaziers, 2 blacksmiths, 1 baker, 1 painter, 1 carpenter and 2 others.
The main economic activity happened at the Market Day which took place at Tuesdays. The relations between the Jews and their Christian neighbors were good comparing with other towns.
The Jewish children studied at the elementary school of the religious Yavneh chain (about 55 children in average). There acted also a Kheder with about 25 boys. The cultural activity in town was very limited. The library which was established by a group of initiative men did not operate for long. Elections for the Zionist Congresses took place in Taragin only in 1935. All 28 voters voted for the Labor party.
A well-known person in town was the benefactor Rachel Menishevitz. The poet Y. L. Gordon wrote a poem about her.
During the years 1940-1941, when Lithuania was a Soviet Republic, most of the Jewish institutions and organizations were dissolved and several of the Jewish shops were nationalized. Along with this, several Jews integrated into the government institutions and into the economy.
With the outbreak of the war between Germany and The Soviet Union, a big unit of the Red Army garrisoned in Taragin and held their position several days after almost all of Lithuania had been captured by the Germans. After the retreat of the relics of this unit, armed Lithuanian nationalists took over the rule in town. During the fight the local church was hit, a fact that increased the aggravation of the population, and found led to attacks and of the local Jews and those who happen to be in Taragin trying to escape to Russia.
The rabbis who served in Taragin were:
Shemuel Albin (1798-1862)
Yosef-Yehoshua Utyaner ( 1874)
Eliezer-Tsevi Pines in Taragin since 1875 till 1937, died at the age of 94
Ya'akov Pines son of Eliezer. Last Rabbi of Taragin. Murdered in 1941
|The Yavneh school|
|The Old Wooden Synagogue|
|Rabbi Eliezer-Tsevi Pines|
In one night most of the Jewish population was expelled from their homes. They were concentrated into two groups, with more than hundred people in each group. One group was brought to the nearby village Taurapilis and the other group to Lataliai. There they were accommodated in cowsheds and stables and were sent to work at the farms nearby. For food they had to care themselves.
After three days the men were sent to dig pits with the pretext that many killed horses that are laying in the fields have to be buried. During two nights the men armed with spades dug the pits and in the mornings they returned. At the third night they were brought to pits, this time without the spades, were forced to undress, pushed into the pits and shot. The same happened to the other groups. The dead and the wounded were buried together. There were cases when shocked people jumped into the pit before they were shot.
For several days after the murder a guard was posted at the graves. No survivors are known.
The mass graves of Taragin Jews are included in the site of the large mass graves of Utyan and so it was indicated at the memorial monument.
The sculpture Pain in front of the entrance gate
to the mass graves of the Jews of Utyan and surroundings
(Designer: V. Simonelis)
At the beginning of the 1990s a memorial tablet was fixed at the old Jewish cemetery of Taragin with the inscription in Lithuanian and Yiddish: The Old Jewish Cemetery Blessed is the Memory of the Deceased.
YIVO NY, Lithuanian Communities Collection, Files 459-460
Folksblat [daily] (Yiddish)-Kovno, 23.7.1935
|The mass graves and the monument|
The tablet of the monument with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
In this place the Hitler murderers and their local helpers at July-August 1941
murdered about 8,000 Jews-men, women, children.
The above article is an excerpt from "Preserving Our Litvak Heritage" by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.
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